News Column

Tunisia Blames Assassination on Islamist Extremists

July 26, 2013

Tunisia's government on Friday blamed Islamist radicals for the killing of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi the day before, saying he was shot with the same weapon used to kill Chokri Belaid, an opposition leader assassinated half a year ago.

Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou accused an ultraconservative Islamist, Boubakeur Hakim, of being implicated in both attacks, which he said were carried out with the same 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

During a search of Hakim's home, police had found a stash of weapons and munitions, Ben Jeddou said. The suspect, who was suspected of smuggling weapons from Libya, was on the run, he added.

The announcement came as thousands of opposition supporters - who accuse the ruling Islamist party Ennahda of responsibility for the attacks - took to the streets for a second day of protests. The party and government have denied any links to the attack. The presidency has declared Friday as a day of mourning.

The Tunisian General Labour Union has called a general strike to protest the assassinations. Most flights in and out of the country were grounded for the day. Most shops and public buildings in the capital were shuttered. Only a small numbers of buses were running.

In Tunis, around 2,000 people protested outside the Interior Ministry on central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, chanting slogans such as "the Ministry of the Interior is a ministry of terror."

Afterwards, they began marching on the National Constituent Assembly in the north-west of the city to demand its dissolution.

Brahmi, a leader of the small nationalist Popular Current party, was a member of the assembly. The body was elected in October 2011 to write a constitution within a year, but is still in place.

Like many opposition politicians, he had called for the assembly to be dissolved and for a national unity government to run the country until elections, which are long overdue with no date set as yet.

In the wake of his death, the opposition reissued that call - but Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi have insisted the government and assembly remain in power until eventual elections.

Anti-government demonstrators also mobilized in several regional towns.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, where a local government building was torched on Thursday.

Brahmi was born near Sidi Bouzid, where the Arab Spring began in December 2010, with protests that forced longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power within a month.

The transitional period has seen a widening gulf between the ruling Islamists and secular opposition, with the latter accusing Ennahda of incompetence and of being soft on Islamist militia.

Belaid's killing had already triggered a crisis, which Ennahda survived by appointing independents to key ministries. Analysts said Brahmi's killing put pressure on the party to go further in terms of gestures towards the opposition and civil society.

The United States, Germany, France, European Union and United Nations have all condemned the attack. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday she was "shocked" and called for both Belaid's and Brahmi's murders to be fully investigated.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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