A powerful bomb killed an anti-Syria lawmaker and six others in a Christian neighbourhood of Beirut on Wednesday, threatening to derail an effort by an already deeply divided parliament to elect Lebanon's next president in voting to begin next week.
Antoine Ghanem, a 64-year-old member of the Christian Phalange party who had returned from refuge abroad only two days earlier, was the eighth
anti-Syria figure and fourth lawmaker from the governing coalition to be assassinated in less than three years.
Coalition members blamed Syria, but Damascus denied involvement, as it has for the previous seven assassinations, including the 2005 bombing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a killing that ignited huge protests that forced Syria to withdraw its troops after a three-decade occupation.
Hariri's son, who now heads the main anti-Syrian alliance in the Lebanese parliament, called the perpetrators of Wednesday's attack "cowardly criminal killers".
"The presidency does not belong to Saad Hariri, or to Hassan Nasrallah, or to Nabih Berri, or to Michel Aoun, or to any other party. The presidency belongs to the people of Lebanon," Saad Hariri said.
Many people fear the divisions over the presidency could lead to creation of two rival governments, a grim threat to repeat the last two years of
Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war when army units loyal to competing administrations battled it out.
President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria, is due to step down from the presidency by November 23 and government supporters see the vote as the opportunity to put one of their own in the post.
But Hezbollah and its allies have vowed to block any candidate they do not approve and they can do so by boycotting the ballots, preventing the needed two-thirds quorum of 85 votes.
If no candidate is agreed on by the time Lahoud steps down, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his cabinet would automatically take on executive powers.
If that happens, opposition supporters have said Lahoud might appoint a second government, a step many fear would break up the country.