Explosion thunders in Beirut - 13 June, 2007

An explosion, apparently from a bomb-rigged car, rocked Beirut's seafront Wednesday, killing an anti-Syrian lawmaker and nine others. The 65-year-old lawmaker, Walid Eido, was the seventh opponent of Damascus to be killed in two years in this conflict-ridden country.

Eido's 35-year-old son Khaled, two bodyguards and six bystanders were also killed in the explosion, security officials said. Eleven other were wounded, they said.

The slain parliament member was an ally of Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority and son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated two years ago in a Beirut car bombing. Several politicians, including pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, condemned the assassination.

After the explosion, car was in flames and black smoke was seen rising from a narrow street off the main waterfront in Manara, which is in the Muslim sector of the capital. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. TV station said the explosion came from a bomb-rigged car, a method that has been used to assassinate opponents of Syria over the past two years.

Two bodies covered with a plastic bags were laying in a smoldering car. The explosion shattered windows of apartments, knocked down walls and scattered debris on top of parked cars in the area, which is near an amusement park, a military club and popular beaches.

About an hour after the blast, dozens of anti-Syrian demonstrators gathered outside Eido's house in Beirut's western neighborhood of Aisha Bakkar chanting slogans and setting tires on fire blocking the road. Lebanese troops later dispersed the demonstrators and opened the road.

"Syria is after us," shouted one supporter on a television camera. "Get off our backs." Another supporter shouted: "They are not leaving any lawmaker or ministers. Isn't it enough that they killed Hariri?"

Dozens of others gathered outside the American University Hospital where some of the bodies and those wounded were taken.

The explosion occurred less than two kilometers (less than a mile) from the site of a suicide truck bombing that killed former Rafik Hariri and 22 others in February 2005.

Hariri's killing sparked huge protests against Syria, which was widely seen as culpable. Syria denied involvement but was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year presence.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council ordered the creation of a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for Hariri's assassination despite the opposition from Syrian-backed groups in Lebanon. The tribunal, which went into effect three days ago, is expected to take a year to put in place.

The issue of the tribunal has sharply polarized the country. It is at the core of a deep political crisis between the U.S.-backed government led by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hezbollah. The tensions have taken a more sectarian tone in recent months, with 11 people killed in clashes.

Eido, a judge, was among the 70 legislators from the pro-Western majority that petitioned the United Nations along with the government to impose the international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassination.

The explosion occurred as efforts were being made to ease the political tensions and bring the feuding parties together in a national unity Cabinet. A French envoy was in Beirut earlier this week to invite rival factions to a meeting in France later this month.

In Washington, a spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush's National Security Council said the U.S. "deplores this latest attack in Beirut" that killed Eido and his son.

"We stand with the people of Lebanon and Prime Minister Saniora's government as they battle extremists who are trying to derail Lebanon's march to peace, prosperity and a lasting democracy," Gordon Johndroe said.

Six other explosions have hit Beirut and its suburbs over the past three weeks, killing at least two people. Lebanese troops also are battling Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in the northern part of the country.

Hariri's Future bloc, dominated by moderate Sunnis, has come out strongly in support of the Lebanese army in their fight against Fatah Islam.

Eido, who was known to frequent Manara in the afternoon to play cards with friends, also was one of the vocal opponents of Hezbollah-led protests and sit-ins in downtown Beirut outside Saniora's office that have been going on since Dec. 1 in a campaign to force the prime minister to step down. He has called the encampment in downtown Beirut by the opposition as "occupation."

The explosion occurred despite stringent security measures in Beirut and other areas. Cars have been prevented from parking in many areas, and random army and police checkpoints were set up to search vehicles and motorists. Some major politicians have closeted themselves in their homes behind heavy security, and shopping malls have brought in equipment to search vehicles electronically.