Islamists’ critic killed in Tunisia

Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis yesterday. Photo: Reuters

A fierce critic of the Tunisian Government’s dealings with radical Islamists was shot dead yesterday, sending protesters on to the streets two years after their Jasmine Revolution sparked revolt across the Arab world.

The headquarters of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which rules in a fractious coalition with secularists, was set ablaze after Chokri Belaid, an outspoken, secular leader, was gunned down outside his home in the capital.

His party and others in the opposition parties said they would quit the assembly that is writing a new constitution and called a general strike for today when Belaid will be buried.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who said the identity of the attacker was not known, condemned his killing as a political assassination and a strike against the “Arab Spring” revolution. Ennahda denied any involvement.

As Belaid’s body was taken by ambulance through Tunis from the hospital where he died, police fired teargas towards about 20,000 protesters at the Interior Ministry chanting for the fall of the Government.

“This is a black day in the history of modern Tunisia. Today we say to the Islamists, ‘get out’... enough is enough,” said Souad, a 40-year-old teacher outside the ministry.

“Tunisia will sink in the blood if you stay in power.”

Despite calls for calm from the President, who is not an Islamist, thousands also demonstrated in cities including Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid – the cradle of the revolution – where police fired teargas and warning shots at protesters who set cars and a police station on fire.

While Belaid’s nine-party Popular Front bloc has only three seats in the constituent assembly, the opposition jointly agreed to pull its 90 or so members out of the body, which is acting as parliament and writing the new post-revolution charter. Ennahda and its fellow ruling parties have some 120 seats.

The small North African state was the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections as uprisings spread around the region in 2011, leading to the ousting of the rulers of Egypt, Yemen and Libya and the civil war in Syria.


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