A powerful explosion killed at least two people and wounded 54 others in a southern Philippine port city that has been hit by similar blasts blamed on Muslim militants, police said yesterday.

The blast occurred at a bar across the street from a busy bus terminal in Zamboanga city, damaging nearby establishments and hitting the victims with flying glass and debris. Police suspected the militant Abu Sayyaf group, which operates in Zamboanga and nearby provinces. Earlier this week, army special forces killed at least three Abu Sayyaf gunmen in running gunbattles and have continued to pursue the militants in nearby Basilan province. The group has previously set off bombs to divert attention from military operations.

Regional police chief Edwin Basbas said investigators were looking for three men seen in the vicinity shortly before the blast.

The bar and the bus terminal had been separately hit several years ago by bomb blasts blamed on the Abu Sayyaf. At least two suspected militants were arrested in another bomb attack near a police station last month, he said.

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The Abu Sayyaf numbers about 300 fighters and remains a major security threat in the country's south despite US-backed Philippine military offensives.

- AP