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French Version

Beirutis jittery after Monnot blast, bomb scare

Patrons of busy street's bar and nighclub scene shift to alternative venues until confidence is restored

Beirutis suffered a jittery weekend after a bomb detonated in the heart of Beirut's bustling night life Friday night and a bomb scare on Saturday near the Phoenicia Inter-Continental and St. Georges hotels.

Police officials cordoned off a busy intersection around a small Japanese car parked about 200 meters from the spot where former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive explosion on February 14.

Lebanese Army investigators wearing protective gear searched the car "but found no explosives," said Lebanese security officials.

The bomb scare followed a bomb blast on Friday night in the crowded Rue Monnot, which stunned youths and tourists visiting the various bars and nightclubs and left 12 people slightly wounded.

"It is not safe anywhere anymore," said Hala Tabash, a 21-year-old student who frequents Rue Monnot with her friends on the weekends for late drinks and dancing.

Two vehicles were incinerated in Friday's blast after a bomb placed under a parked car detonated on Rue Monnot on the fringes of Christian east Beirut, said director general of internal security General Ashraf Rifi.

After Friday's bombing, Tabash avoided Monnot and instead ventured Downtown with her friends.

"I am going to wait and see what others do, if they start going to Monnot then I will start again," said Tabash.

Others were also choosing to wait and watch on Saturday night as cars cruised by Monnot to look at the bomb site but didn't stay long. Since the blast, a precautionary power cut has cloaked the neighborhood in darkness after water used to put out the fire from the blast came into contact with severed power cables and caused fears of electrocution.

"People come but don't stay for long," said Rida Salameh, the owner of a parking lot near the bomb site who witnessed some of the cars' windows shatter from the impact of the blast.

"The bomb was aimed to cause panic but not kill people, if it was aimed to hurt people it would have been placed later at night, not at 9:30 when the area is mainly empty," said Salameh.

However, despite the overall emptiness of the usually crowded Monnot, some couples ventured, determined to "drink and dance" in Monnot regardless.

"If there are less people, it just means we will have more room to dance," laughed Roger Latef, who was walking along Monnot with his girlfriend.

"Besides, a bomb never hits the same place twice, so technically Monnot is now the safest place in Beirut," said Latef, who lived in Lebanon during the Civil War and feels bomb blasts have become something "ordinary," for him.

"We can't live in fear, we have to go on with our lives and not let bomb blasts stop us from doing what we like to do," said Latef.

There have been reports Monnot remained open on Friday night after the blast, with some clubs still filled with people late into the night.

In recent months, Lebanon has been host to a string of political assassinations, as well as several terror bombings at remote sites in some Christian neighborhoods.

But Friday's blast did not appear to be aimed at any particular target.

Instead, the attack is being viewed as "a message to the new security stability, the new government and national consensus," said Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis referring to the new Lebanese government announced earlier this week.

Sarkis said: "The explosion was intended to scare off the thousands of tourists, but we as Lebanese will confront these attacks and not succumb to such tactics and will stand united against any attempts to hurt our relations with our Arab and foreign visitors."

Sarkis also said the bomb was a rejection of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice' s presence in Lebanon after she made a surprise visit from Jerusalem on Friday to pledge her "support" for the new government.

Rice toured the neighborhood several hours before the blast, as well as visiting Lebanese officials and the grave of assassinated ex-Premier Rafik Hariri.

Beirut 25-07-2005
Rym Ghazal
The Daily Star

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