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FRENCH POLICE GET STRONG LEAD IN BLAST: A MAN SEEN SHOVING PACKAGE INTO CAN

A man was spotted shoving a package into a garbage can just before a bomb blast in Paris wounded 17 people, giving police a possible strong lead in the second guerrilla attack in the French capital in less than a month.

A cyclist identified as Laurent, 37, said he helped police prepare a portrait of one of two men of North African origin he saw behaving suspiciously on Thursday before the bomb went off in a crowd of tourists near the Arc de Triomphe."When I got back to my home, I heard a boom and there was no doubt - it was them who planted the bomb," he told RTL Radio. Investigators were taking his report seriously, police sources said.

Eleven foreign visitors - four Italians, four Hungarians, a Portuguese, a Briton and a German - were among the injured in the blast just off the Champs Elysees avenue on a warm, sunny afternoon.

The blast aroused fears of a wave of future attacks, coming 23 days after a similar explosive device in a Metro station near Notre Dame cathedral killed seven people and wounded 86.

No one has claimed responsibility for either bombing.

Suspicion quickly centred on the extremist Armed Islamic Group (GIA), fundamentalist Muslims who are seeking to topple the Algerian government and transform the former French possession into an Islamic republic.

But officials did not rule out the possibility of a campaign by Algerian secret agents to discredit the Muslim guerrillas.

Police ordered an even more stringent security crackdown than was put in place following the initial bombing. Small groups of police strolled the streets, patrolling tourist spots and conducting identity checks on individuals and cars.