Tunisia: Opposition leader shot dead

2013-07-25 17:00
Belkaeis Brahimi, daughter of Tunisian politician Mohammed Brahmi, protesting his death.

Belkaeis Brahimi, daughter of Tunisian politician Mohammed Brahmi, protesting his death. (AFP)

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Tunisia - Gunmen shot dead the leader of a leftist Tunisian opposition party outside his house on Thursday morning, in the year's second political assassination in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Mohammed Brahmi, 58, of an Arab nationalist political party was in his car outside his home when gunmen fired several shots at him, said Interior Ministry spokesperson Mohammed Ali Aroui.

The two attackers then sped off on a moped, according to a neighbour cited by the state news agency. Local media reported he was shot 11 times.

It is the second killing of an opposition member this year, following that of Chokri Belaid, a member of the same leftist Popular Front coalition as Brahmi.

Belaid was also shot dead in his car outside his home in February. His killing provoked a political crisis that nearly derailed Tunisia's political transition.

Tunisia is led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which dominated October 2011 elections and rules in a coalition with two secular parties.

The opposition has criticised Ennahda for not cracking down on Islamist extremists, and many members of Belaid's party hold the government responsible for his assassination

Soon after news broke of the assassination of Brahmi, crowds gathered to protest outside the Interior Ministry in the heart of Tunis.

"This is really going to put Ennahda on the spot right now," said Laryssa Chomiak, director of the Tunis-based Institute for Maghreb Studies.

"The Tunisian public was not happy with the way in which the Chokri Belaid assassination investigation was dealt with... if they mess this up, I think it's going to be extremely bad for them, for their domestic support."

In a statement on Thursday, Ennahda condemned "this cowardly and despicable crime" and called on the government to "urgently arrest those who committed this crime and reveal those behind them who have targeted the stability of the country."

The killing comes as Tunisia was celebrating the 56th anniversary of becoming a republic after gaining independence from France.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the speaker of the national assembly in which Brahmi was a legislator, announced Friday would be a day of mourning.

Tunisia is struggling with a democratic transition after overthrowing its dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. It faces a faltering economy, popular unrest over unmet expectations and a rising extremist Islamist movement.

The government has blamed Belaid's February assassination on Islamist extremists and said that six suspects are still on the run and their names will soon be revealed.

Belaid's death prompted the resignation of the prime minister and a cabinet reshuffle. The latest assassination comes as Tunisia's drawn out transition may finally be nearing its end.

The new constitution has been written and will be voted on in the coming weeks. Prime Minister Ali Larayedh promised on Monday that elections for a new president would be held before the end of the year.

Read more on:    zine el abidine ben ali  |  chokri belaid  |  north africa

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