updated 5/7/2005 12:27:11 AM ET 2005-05-07T04:27:11

An explosion ravaged a shopping area and set off a fire near a Christian religious radio station and a church in the port city of Jounieh north of Beirut late Friday, reportedly killing at least one person on the eve of the return from exile of Lebanon’s most prominent anti-Syrian politician.

President Emile Lahoud condemned the attack and indicated a link between the explosion and political developments expected Saturday, likely referring to Parliament’s possible discussion of a divisive election law and the return of Michel Aoun — the anti-Syrian politician, a Christian — from 14 years of exile in France.

The explosion broke a lull of several weeks following a spate of bombings of commercial areas in Christian areas and opposition strongholds. Bombings in March and early April killed three people and injured 24.

Witnesses in Jounieh, in the Christian heartland 10 miles north of Beirut, said the explosion occurred near the main square of the picturesque town. It took place near the office of Sawt al-Mahabba, a Christian religious radio station, and a Maronite Catholic church at the entrance to the old souk, or market.

Earlier in the day, the radio station had aired live broadcasts of a sit-in by relatives of Lebanese prisoners held in Syrian jails.

The explosion, heard as far away as the hills overlooking the Mediterranean coast at about 9 p.m., shattered windows of apartments and cars in the old town, a mix of old stone buildings housing shops and residential apartments.

Flames shot up from the first floor of a building above a dollar store whose shutters were blown out by the force of the explosion. Fire engines rushed to the scene, maneuvering their way through the narrow alleys of the old town on the Bay of Jounieh.

Father Fadi Thabet, the station’s manager, said he was not sure whether the station was deliberately targeted. “Nothing will scare us,” he said.

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. reported that one Sri Lankan laborer died in the blast.

Police said 11 wounded people, three with serious injuries were taken to the hospital, and another 12 suffered minor injuries from cuts of flying glass. They could not confirm a fatality.

Opposition legislator Ghassan Moukheiber alleged that the joint Lebanese-Syrian security agencies were still in operation despite the removal of some of their pro-Syrian chiefs in recent days and the withdrawal of the Syrian army. “We accused them before and we accuse them again. They have an interest in sabotage,” he said.

Aoun, speaking from Paris by telephone, told LBC that no bomb will scare people from turning out Saturday to welcome him at a rally in Beirut. “These things affect the cowards, not the Lebanese people,” said the former army commander who fought and lost a war against Syrian forces in 1989-90.

Also Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and repeated his demand that all militias in Lebanon be disarmed, a clear reference to Hezbollah.

Mikati told reporters after the meeting that he did not consider Hezbollah to be a militia and explicitly linked the disarming of Hezbollah to other issues in the Middle East, including the release of Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails. He said the solution on Hezbollah arms “will mainly come as a result of Lebanese nationwide dialogue.”

Lebanon has been in political turmoil since a massive bombing in the capital on Feb. 14 killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the country’s most famous politician, and 20 others.

Since then, mass anti-Syrian protests and intense international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its troops. Syrian forces completed their withdrawal April 26, and a new government was installed in Beirut last month.

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