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Baghdad rocked by more blasts

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two large blasts have rocked central Baghdad as U.S. and British warplanes kept up a fierce barrage on the Iraqi capital, a Reuters correspondent says

Correspondent Nadim Ladki said the two explosions hit the city centre shortly after midnight, while more blasts were heard in the southern outskirts, where Republican Guard are believed to be dug in to defend the capital from advancing U.S. forces.

"You can hear the warplanes flying low overhead, and there is some anti-aircraft fire," Ladki said.

The raid came as a large fire continued to rage near the centre of the city, sending clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky. The blaze was apparently an oil-filled trench set alight in the hope of hampering U.S. and British air strikes.

Baghdad has been hit by repeated air attacks since March 20, when the United States and Britain launched a war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Much of the bombing in recent days has focused on areas south and east of Baghdad, where elite Republican Guard units are believed to be preparing to defend the city.

U.S. President George W. Bush said on Saturday advancing troops were less than 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said Sunday's air raids killed six civilians in the industrial area of Zafraniya south of Baghdad. Reuters journalists taken to the scene saw wounded people in hospital.

Telephone lines in Baghdad were badly disrupted after repeated strikes on telephone exchanges.

U.S. military officials said they had bombed the main training site for Iraqi Fedayeen paramilitary forces in eastern Baghdad, a presidential palace, an intelligence complex and surface-to-air missile sites.

Reuters journalists in Baghdad said Sunday's bombing had targeted a complex inside a presidential palace used by Saddam's son Qusay. The complex had already been hit by several missiles in the first days of the war.

Iraq says 62 people were killed and 49 wounded in a devastating explosion in a crowded Baghdad market on Friday which it blames on a U.S. attack.

The United States is still checking whether its forces were responsible. U.S. officials have suggested that a previous blast in another Baghdad market might have been caused by an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile crashing back to earth.

Other air strikes over the weekend targeted the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul as Washington slowly moves troops into the region to open a new front in its war against Iraq.


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