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Peruvian hostages settle into a routine

It's up at 6 a.m. for a light breakfast followed by stretching and laps. Lunch and dinner are low-fat and exact portions. A little stimulating conversation in the evening and it's early to bed.

It could be a day at a fat farm for overweight executives _ except for the machine-gun-toting teenagers standing guard.

Life at the Japanese ambassador's residence, where Tupac Amaru rebels have been holding 72 hostages since before Christmas, has settled into a routine.

"They're trying to pass the time the best way they can," said Steven Anderson, a Red Cross spokesman who has visited the besieged compound.

Red Cross officials have carried in books, transistor radios and compact disc players, games like Trivial Pursuit, chess and bingo, playing cards and crossword puzzles to help the hostages while away the time.

Most of the hostages are Peruvian government officials and high-ranking police and military officers, but there also are Japanese diplomats and business executives and the Bolivian ambassador to Peru.

They sleep on foam mattresses spread out on the floor next to each other. They bathe from buckets and do chores once delegated to underlings, such as taking out trash and cleaning bathrooms.

Added to the discomfort is the tension of constant vigilance by about 15 heavily armed rebels, some as young as 16 years old.

"It continues to be a crisis situation, despite the passage of time," Anderson said.

At least one hostage, Peru's vice minister of energy, Juan Mendoza, has been put on anti-depressants, according to his family.

Between meals and morning exercise, most hostages read or play games. About 400 books in both Japanese and Spanish have been sent in. Some have begun learning foreign languages: the Japanese study Spanish and the Peruvians study Japanese or French.

The hostages have four guitars and evening sing-alongs are a popular pastime.

"In a way, a micro-society is being organized inside the residence with the different characters of each person," Anderson said.

As the hostages' only real link to the outside world, the Red Cross delivers clean clothing once a week and carries messages to and from their families twice a week _ 7,000 so far.

The Red Cross also brings in two hot meals a day. Meals are balanced and low fat. Some captives, such as Bolivian Ambassador Jorge Gumucio, who suffers from hypertension and diabetes, have special diets.

Anderson said the hostages receive Western food, including Peruvian dishes, or Japanese food, depending on individual preferences. Twice, hostages persuaded the Red Cross to order pizza.