Journalists who feared they would become human shields, freed from hotel

British journalists and other foreign nationals have been freed from a Tripoli hotel where they were being held captive by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Gunmen guarding the 35-strong group at the Rixos reportedly surrendered their weapons and left. No-one is thought to have been hurt.

The hotel was the scene of the surprise reappearance of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam earlier this week and has remained in the hands of those loyal to the dictator, even as large parts of the capital fell to rebel advances.

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The Rixos is the hotel where the Gaddafi government obliged foreign journalists to stay when reporting on the conflict.

BBC correspondent Matthew Price said the group included a US congressman and Indian MP.The situation deteriorated overnight when it became clear they could not leave of their own free will. Power cuts also meant they had not been able to watch on television as Gaddafi’s compound was stormed.

“They said they had been ordered by Saif al-Islam to keep us inside, to keep us safe,” he said.

Mr Price said they feared they could be used as human shields if the regime’s forces decided to use the luxury hotel as the site for a last stand.

“We wondered if our lives were at risk because of that, because we were seen as on one side of the conflict,” he added.

One of the gunmen apparently broke down in tears just before the group was released.

“There was a sudden realisation for him that the game was up,” Mr Price said.

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