BEIRUT (AFP) - A huge car bomb rocked central Beirut on Friday, killing an adviser to Lebanese ex-premier Saad Hariri and leaving people, cars and buildings ablaze, reports and correspondents said.
Footage broadcast by Future TV showed people on fire, others lying on the ground, some bloodied, as well as several cars and buildings ablaze while ambulances rushed to the stricken area.
The blast, which sent thick black smoke scudding across the capital's skyline, occurred near the Serail, a massive building that houses the prime minister's office, and close to parliament, banks, shops and restaurants.
The state news agency NNA said the blast was caused by a car bomb and that it had killed Mr Mohammad Chatah, a prominent economist who was also a former minister of finance and Lebanon's envoy to Washington.
Mr Chatah had served as adviser to former prime minister Fuad Siniora and his successor and ex-premier Saad Hariri, whose own father was assassinated in a huge Beirut seafront car bomb in February 2005 blamed on Syria.
He was killed as he headed to Mr Hariri's mansion in the city centre of Beirut to attend a meeting of the March 14 anti-Syria coalition which backs the Syrian opposition struggle to topple the Damascus regime.
Beirut has been hit by several deadly attacks in the past few months, including twin suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian embassy and bombings in the bastion of the Shiite movement Hezbollah in the south of the capital.
An hour before he was killed Mr Chatah tweeted messages slamming Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah is pressing hard to be granted similar powers in security & foreign policy matters that Syria exercised in Lebanon for 15 years," he said, in reference to Syria's nearly 30-year military and political hegemony in Lebanon that ended after Rafiq Hariri's murder in 2005.
The 33-month war in Syria has deeply divided the Lebanese and triggered political tensions and sectarian clashes in the country.