New Zealand police opened fire from armoured personnel carriers today so they could retrieve the body of a colleague killed outside a house by a gunman who has held authorities at bay for more than 30 hours.
The siege has closed down a section of the city of Napier since yesterday.
Armed police have surrounded the house where former army reservist Jan Molenaar, 51, fired a fusillade of shots from an automatic rifle at police who arrived early yesterday with a warrant to search the house for cannabis.
One officer was shot dead and two others seriously wounded, along with a bystander.
Volleys of gunfire stymied police attempts to retrieve the body and rescue a police dog trapped in a nearby van, Superintendent Sam Hoyle said.
At dusk today, two light armoured vehicles drove toward the house, with armed police crouching behind them for cover, an eyewitness told National Radio.
"There were some shots fired from the house — it's dark now and we could see the flash," said the eyewitness, who was identified only as Brody. "They returned fire from the guns on the tanks."
Less than half an hour later, one of the vehicles returned to the police base with the body of the dead officer.
"We are pleased for the family that we are able to bring him out — it has been a traumatic and immensely difficult time for them," Hoyle said.
Hoyle has said police prefer to wait out the gunman rather than storm the house.
Intermittent negotiations with the gunman have been tense, and the suspect fired on police outside the house in the suburb of Hospital Hill "dozens of times" overnight, Hoyle said.
"We are dealing with a very complex character and, as you might expect in negotiations going on for this amount of time, he goes through various mood swings," he told reporters.
More than 500 residents of the port city remained cut off from their homes by the standoff, and local businesses and three nearby schools remained closed.
The two wounded police officers and the civilian — who was shot as he wrestled with Molenaar during Thursday's melee — remained in critical condition in a hospital.
New Zealand, a South Pacific nation of four million people famous worldwide for its stunning wilderness and idyllic lifestyle, is among few countries in the world where police routinely do not carry guns. The officer shot dead was the 29th killed on duty in New Zealand since 1890.