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Beirut Car Bomb Kills Lebanese Politician

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One story in the news this morning will sound familiar to citizens of Lebanon. In Beirut today, a car bomb exploded on a downtown street. The four people killed included a prominent politician. Earlier this year, the basic facts were similar and the victim was a former prime minister. There have been more bombings since, and this time the victims included Jubran Tueini, who was a prominent anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker. NPR's Deborah Amos is covering the story from Beirut.

And, Deborah, what have you seen today?

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

I went to the bomb site today and got as close as I could. This was an industrial neighborhood in Beirut, and the blast came during morning rush hour from the Christian areas of the city. It was a huge explosion. There are reports that it was a parked car that blew up. Now Tueini's armored SUV was blown right off the road, and it rolled down a hill, so as we walked near the explosion, there was glass everywhere and a rush of police, army and emergency rescue workers.

INSKEEP: Now we described Tueini as an anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker. What exactly did he stand for, and what was his role in political life there?

AMOS: Well, let's also remember that he was a member of parliament. He was elected in June. It's true, he was better known as the publisher of An-Nahar, but he'd always been an outspoken critic of Syria, and for years he wrote these fiery editorials against Damascus when Syrian troops were stationed in the country. He could only run for office when the troops and Syrian intelligence were forced out last spring after the killing of Rafiq Hariri. Now Tueini was well aware of the dangers that he faced. He's been outside the country for months, and I understand, he only came back to Lebanon last night.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Now, Deborah, you mentioned Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister who was killed earlier this year. Today we're expecting the United Nations to release its latest report on that assassination and what it's learned. Could there be any connection between that report and the bombing today?

AMOS: Well, it is true that Tueini's death comes hours before the United Nations team investigating the murder of Rafiq Hariri presents its findings to the Security Council, and it's expected to detail Syria's alleged role in that murder, which the Syrians deny. Now there's been charges and countercharges all day long. Walid Jumblatt, who's a prominent member of parliament and a close friend and ally of Tueini, publicly accused the Syrians of ordering this murder today. The Syrians have been very quick to condemn the killing, saying that the death was timed to smear Damascus. So later today we will see the UN investigation report on Hariri. It is ironic and tragic that Jubran Tueini, who cared so much about what happened in that investigation, died today.

INSKEEP: And if I can ask briefly, I think a lot of us on this side of the ocean thought that the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon earlier this year essentially closed Syria's major influence in Lebanese life. Does Syria still seem to loom large in Lebanon?

AMOS: For Lebanese, that is certainly true. This--my second stop today was to stop by the An-Nahar building, which is in the downtown square, and there were hundreds of people wrapped in Lebanese flags standing outside, some of them crying. Almost all of them that I spoke with thought that the Syrians were involved. But Lebanese tend to think that because the Syrians played such a large role here for so many years, and so there were accusations even on the square today.

But this seems to have brought the government together. There had been some hesitation about asking for an international investigation for Hariri, but the government is expected to meet today and ask for an international investigation that could go on...

INSKEEP: OK.

AMOS: ...for at least another year.

INSKEEP: Deborah, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR's Deborah Amos. She is in Beirut where a car bomb has killed four people today, including a prominent anti-Syrian journalist and member of parliament.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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