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Beirut blast kills Syria critic

Beirut, Dec. 27: A powerful bomb shook central Beirut this morning, killing at least six persons and injuring dozens more.

Among the dead was Mohammed B. Chattah, a former Lebanese finance minister and ambassador to the US who was a vocal critic of the government in neighbouring Syria and its ally, the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah.

It was not immediately clear whether. Chattah was the intended target of the car bomb, nor was there an immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which was reminiscent of a string of unsolved bombings that have targeted anti-Syrian politicians over the past decade.

Chattah was a prominent member of the Future bloc, the mainly Sunni party headed by Saad Hariri, the son of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose death in a 2005 bombing in Beirut sparked a protest movement that ended Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

Nohad al-Mashnouq, a member of Parliament for the Future bloc and a friend of Chattah’s, confirmed in an interview that he had been killed. A health ministry official at the scene of the bombing said six persons had been killed.

Chattah was a top official of the Future bloc, the mainly Sunni party headed by Saad Hariri, the son of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a 2005 bombing near the site of today’s blast.

Future is seen as supportive of the Syrian insurgency and close to Saudi Arabia, one of the insurgents’ main international backers. Lebanon is deeply divided over the civil war in Syria, with Hezbollah supporting the Syrian government and Future opposing it.

Chattah, in a posting on Twitter this morning, was critical of Hezbollah, saying it was seeking to exercise similar powers in the areas of security and foreign policy to those that Syria had in Lebanon for 15 years.

The bombing was reminiscent of a string of assassinations of Lebanese politicians opposing the Syrian government over the past decade. No one has ever claimed responsibility for those bombings and none has been solved.

Local television broadcast images of the blast scene in front of the Starco building complex, a downtown site notable for having survived unscathed through the civil war from 1975 to 1990.

Several dead bodies and many wounded people could be seen in the footage. Ambulances were seen taking victims from the downtown business district.

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