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Gunman opens fire in Australian city

The morning rush hour was unusually hot Monday in a second largest city of Australia for a gunman opened fire on a downtown street, killing one man and critically wounding another who had tried to help a woman he was fighting with, police said. The woman was also shot and badly wounded.

Part of central Melbourne, a financial center of 3.6 million people, was closed off by police for several hours as a manhunt was launched, including tactical officers armed with shotguns and security helicopters overhead. Business activity was not significantly interrupted.

The suspect was still at large by nightfall, though police recovered a semi-automatic pistol and a jacket near the scene of the shooting that they believed to have been shed by the attacker. Police said they believed they had learned the gunman's identity.

Witnesses described seeing the attacker struggle with a woman in the street shortly before he pulled out a gun as the two bystanders came to help. Detective Inspector Stephen Clark said the man and woman knew each other.

"A girl came out of a building over the road, she was screaming and a guy had her by the hair," witness Ross Murchie told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"She tried to grab hold of a taxi that was going by and the couple of bystanders went over to ask what was happening," Murchie said. "He let go of her hair, pulled out a gun and shot them all."

Another witness, Zali Nash, described the gunman as "cool as a cucumber" as he fired the shots and then ran off.

"He just went bang, bang, bang. There was no mucking around," Nash said.

The woman and wounded man were both in critical condition with chest wounds late Monday after undergoing surgery, health officials said. The other bystander died at the scene.

The shooting occurred on the corner of Flinders Lane and William Streets in central Melbourne around 8 a.m. Monday (2200 Sunday), sending hundreds of frightened commuters fleeing.

Prime Minister John Howard declined to comment directly on the shooting because he was not aware of the details, but said he was willing to open discussions on further tightening gun control laws with state leaders, who have responsibility for policing them.

Justice Minister David Johnston said Australian firearms laws already were very tight and that it was likely the gun used in Monday's shooting was obtained illegally.

"It is very, very, difficult for a law-abiding citizen to obtain a handgun," Johnston said, although added: "If someone wants to purchase a concealable weapon on the black market they will probably be successful."

Police said the gunman is believed to have been involved in a fight at a nightclub about 10 minutes before the shooting.

"Certainly we're not looking that it's a random act, certainly not gang related. It appears as though it's a domestic-related incident," Inspector Glenn Weir said.