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Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another assassination roils Lebanon ahead of elections

September 20, 2007

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— A powerful bomb killed an anti-Syria lawmaker and six others Wednesday in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut, threatening to derail an effort by an already deeply divided Parliament to elect Lebanon's next president in voting to begin next week.

Antoine Ghanem, a 64-year-old member of the Christian Phalange party who had returned from refuge abroad only two days earlier, was the eighth anti-Syria figure and fourth lawmaker from the governing coalition to be assassinated in less than three years.

Coalition members blamed Syria. Damascus denied involvement, as it has for the previous seven assassinations, including the 2005 bombing death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - a killing that ignited huge protests that forced Syria to withdraw its troops after a three-decade occupation.

Security officials said at least 67 people were wounded in Wednesday's blast, half of whom had left the hospital by day's end. The explosion occurred at rush hour on a busy street in the Sin el-Fil district, severely damaging nearby buildings, setting several cars on fire and scattering blood and debris along the street.

Explosive experts were seen checking the engine of Ghanem's car, which was thrown more than 150 feet. A security official said the bomb was likely detonated by remote control near Ghanem's car.

"I have never seen a more cowardly regime than that of Bashar Assad's," lawmaker Saad Hariri said, blaming the Syrian president for Ghanem's death. Hariri replaced his father, the assassinated ex-premier, as head of anti-Syria forces, which now hold a majority in Parliament.

Cabinet member Ahmed Fatfat also blamed Syria for the attack, saying Damascus wanted to derail efforts by majority and opposition leaders to reach some accommodation as they begin presidential voting in Parliament on Tuesday.

"It is the only regime that does not want presidential elections in Lebanon to be held," Fatfat told The Associated Press.

President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria, also implied Ghanem's death was meant to undermine the presidential vote, saying "it is no coincidence that whenever there are positive signs" that someone is killed.

Syria said the attack was aimed at sabotaging efforts by the Lebanese people to reach agreement.

"This criminal act aims at undermining efforts paid by Syria and others to achieve Lebanese national accord," Syria's state-run news agency SANA quoted an anonymous Syrian official as saying.

Many people fear the divisions over the presidency could lead to creation of two rival governments, a grim threat to repeat the last two years of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war when army units loyal to competing administrations battled it out.

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