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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 March, 2005, 10:58 GMT
Car bomb hits Lebanon's capital
Scene of Beirut blast
The blast took place in a largely Christian area
A car bomb has wounded at least 11 people in a predominantly Christian suburb in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

The midnight (2200 GMT) blast created a two-metre deep crater, wrecked cars and blew off the front of nearby buildings.

It is not clear who the target was or whether it was politically-motivated. No-one has admitted planting the bomb.

But the anti-Syrian opposition has blamed Damascus supporters saying they are keen to stir unrest to justify the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon.

After the attack, Lebanon's pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud invited political parties to crisis talks.

The opposition has blamed Damascus for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car bomb on 14 February in Beirut.

[President] Lahoud calls on the sides... to live up to their historic responsibilities to protect the higher interests of Lebanon
Emile Lahoud
Lebanese President

Syria has denied the accusations.

It has agreed to pull back its forces under intense international pressure and after huge protests in Beirut.

The country has already moved many troops and intelligence agents back to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa valley or into Syria.

'Protect Lebanon'

The latest blast took place in the northern suburb of New Jdeideh, a part-residential, part-commercial area.

Windows were shattered several blocks away.

"We saw this car just fly into the air and land on the street right in front of us," a witness told Reuters news agency.

Hours later, President Lahoud issued a statement calling on all parties to start a dialogue.

"[President] Lahoud calls on the sides... to live up to their historic responsibilities to protect the higher interests of Lebanon at this sensitive stage by opening an immediate and direct dialogue to lay out all the outstanding problems and reach a consensus in the interest of Lebanon," the statement said.

"The president affirms the need for such a dialogue meeting starting today in any place they agree on, including the presidential palace, which will keep its doors open."

Car bombs were common during Lebanon's civil war from 1975 until the early 1990s.


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