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Hostage drama unfolds in Ingolstadt forcing Angela Merkel to cancel election rally visit

The city hall and surrounding streets have been evacuated and cordoned off by police while they try to negotiate

A man has taken three people hostage at a city hall in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt ahead of a planned visit there by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Bavarian police are reportedly in contact with the man by telephone, but his motives and demands remain unclear.

The hostage-taker was a young man armed with a handgun, though it wasn't clear whether it contained live ammunition, police spokesman Hans-Peter Kammerer said.

The incident started shortly before 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) Monday and police were in contact with the man by telephone.

One of the hostages was a deputy mayor, Sepp Misslbeck. He was freed some five hours into the standoff, police spokesman Josef Petzenhauser. 

It wasn't immediately clear how he was released. The gunman is still holding two hostages — a man and a woman.

Chancellor Merkel was due to visit the Bavarian city later as part of her election tour. Germany holds national elections on Sept. 22, and Bavaria votes in a state election a week earlier.

Police spokesman Guenther Beck said there were "several" hostages but he couldn't be specific. There was no immediate word on who the hostage-taker was.

According The Times unconfirmed reports in local media say the hostage-taker is believed to be a former employee of the city authorities who has escaped from a nearby hospital.

The city hall and surrounding streets have been evacuated and cordoned off by police while they try to negotiate. Mrs Merkel was due to speak there at around 5.15pm but the meeting has since been cancelled. It is not known if there is any connection between the visit and the hostage-taking

The old city hall, one of two city halls in Ingolstadt, dates back to the 14th century, though the building was expanded in the 19th century.

It is home to the mayor's office and the city's tourist information office, among other administrative departments.