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At least 2 killed in Lebanon blast

In Beirut march, students protest against the US

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- An explosion tore through a business center in a Christian town near Beirut early today, killing at least two people in the second deadly attack against an anti-Syrian stronghold since the slaying of Lebanon's former prime minister last month.

The political turmoil touched off by the assassination of Rafik Hariri continued yesterday as about 1,000 students shouting ''Death to America!" and shredding a portrait of President Bush marched on the US Embassy in Beirut to criticize what they said was Washington's interference in Lebanon.

Hariri was an opponent of the 15-year Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and his assassination set off demands that Syria pull its troops out as demanded by a UN Security Council resolution and the United States.

Syria and its Lebanese allies in government denied opposition accusations of having roles in Hariri's assassination. The killing brought Syria's long domination of Lebanon into the spotlight. Syria's military, which entered the country in 1976 during the 1975-90 civil war, made Damascus the power broker of Lebanese politics.

The latest attacks have raised concerns among some Lebanese that pro-Syrian elements might resort to violence to show the need for a continued presence by Damascus forces. More broadly, the attacks have aroused fears of the return of the sectarian violence that characterized the civil war.

Shortly after midnight, a 45-pound bomb rocked the shopping center near Jounieh, the main Christian port city about 10 miles north of Beirut. Police said they believed it was placed at the center when it was closed.

Police said two people were killed and two wounded. LBC TV, the leading station in the country, said three people were killed and eight wounded. It was the second bombing since Saturday, when a car bomb in a northern Christian suburb of Beirut injured nine people.

The demonstrators yesterday, mostly supporters of the militant group Hezbollah, shouted ''Death to Israel" and waved Lebanese flags as they tried to push through barbed wire and a Lebanese army checkpoint.

It was the second protest against the United States in eight days organized by student groups backing the pro-Syrian government.

Hariri's assassination Feb. 14 sparked unprecedented anti-Syrian protests that led Prime Minister Omar Karami to dissolve his government and brought intense international pressure on Syria to completely withdraw its army from Lebanon. Damascus withdrew troops to eastern Lebanon earlier this month and has promised a total pullback.

Both sides are competing on the street to show they have the most public support. A March 8 rally organized by Hezbollah drew a half-million people in a sign of its determination to ensure no future Lebanese government would consider peace with Israel or pressure the militant group to disarm.

The US government blames the pro-Iranian Hezbollah for the 1983 bombing of its Beirut embassy which killed 63 people, 17 of them Americans.

Yesterday, protesters called for the US ambassador's expulsion and tore a portrait of Bush, who has repeatedly called on Syria to remove its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Also yesterday, a newspaper owned by the Hariri family said a UN team investigating his Feb. 14 assassination is expected to accuse Lebanese authorities of negligence and evidence tampering. The team completed its probe March 16 and is due to release its confidential report later this week, but leaks have emerged.

Hariri's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the fact-finding team found Lebanese security authorities had ''tampered with evidence by rushing to tow away Hariri's motorcade from the scene of the crime" to a police barracks, ''then sending on the same night a bulldozer to fill the crater and cleaning the road in order to open it to traffic."

The government has said it is conducting its own investigation.

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