Eight Chinese tourists were killed Monday after a hostage crisis in the Philippines came to a violent end. The incident is likely to heap pressure on new president Benigno Aquino, who must confront the diplomatic fallout with his giant neighbor while seeking to reassure tourists that his impoverished nation of 92 million is safe to visit.
Philippine security forces stormed a tourist bus in the capital, Manila, at around 8.30 p.m. local time after an 11-hour standoff with a man armed with a M-16 rifle who had boarded the bus, taking hostage 22 tourists from Hong Kong and three Filipinos.
The gunman – a police officer protesting his firing in 2008 – became agitated as night fell and specialist SWAT units encircled the bus. He began shooting hostages, and millions of TV viewers worldwide, including many in China and Hong Kong, watched in horror in bars and restaurants as security forces stormed the bus.
The gunman, a highly decorated former senior police inspector identified as Roland Mendoza, was eventually shot by a police sniper.
Hong Kong immediately issued a "black alert" to travelers, indicating the existence of a "severe threat," the state Xinhua news agency reported.
The government has asked all tour groups in the Philippines to return to Manila, a move which threatens to punch a hole in valuable tourist revenue in the archipelego of 7,000 islands.
Philippine media reports said the Chinese Embassy in Manila had urged security forces to intervene earlier.
Speaking to the Manila Bulletin, Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun said Chinese authorities had asked for an "explanation why no SWAT team took action" earlier, adding that embassy officials "had a disagreement with Philippine side.... When the whole drama was over, the Philippine side said sorry … about this action,” he said.
Mr. Tsang also said he was unable to reach Mr. Aquino during the day, and called on the Philippine authorities to prepare a detailed account of what happened.
"It is a tragedy, because a pleasure trip has ended up with casualties and injuries. I tried to contact the Philippine president this afternoon, however I am still unable to get hold of him," he said.
Fifteen tourists survived the ordeal alongside the Filipinos, including the driver who scrambled out of the window shortly before armed police surrounded the bus.
Relatives of the survivors were preparing to fly from Hong Kong on government-chartered flights, as the city pledged to fly its flag at half-mast on Tuesday.
The deaths will dent Aquino's efforts to recast his nation as a tourist destination on a par with Thailand. Last year, 2.7 million tourists visited the Philippines.
Aquino, who hails from a prominent Filipino political dynasty, was elected in June amid a wave of optimism that he could restore peace to the nation, which currently faces an armed insurgency, tackle the country's endemic corruption, and lift its people out off poverty.
A South Korean man was shot dead in a separate incident in Manila on Monday, and last month an American, a South African, and a Briton – and their Filipina partners – were killed in a spate of robberies north of the capital.
IN PICTURES: Philippines bus hostage crisis