BEIRUT, Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president invited anti-Syrian opposition and loyalist politicians to begin immediate talks on Saturday, hours after a car bomb raised fresh fears of a return to the country’s violent past.
The blast wounded several people in a Christian suburb of eastern Beirut, gutting the ground and first floors of a residential block and destroying nearby cars.
The explosion comes amid acute political tension since the Feb. 14 killing by bomb of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, and prompted President Emile Lahoud’s first personal initiative to break the deadlock over Syria’s influence in its tiny neighbor.
“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,” Lahoud’s office said in a statement.
Damascus has already bowed to international demands it withdraw its troops from Lebanon after Hariri’s assassination sparked street protests in Beirut against the Syrians, blamed by many Lebanese for his death.
Syria denies the charge but has begun withdrawing the troops it poured into Lebanon early in the 1975-1990 civil war….