News / Middle East

Assassination Roils Tunisia

Tunisian riot police run towards protesters during a demonstration in Tunis, February 7, 2013.
Tunisian riot police run towards protesters during a demonstration in Tunis, February 7, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Tunisia's political crisis deepened on Thursday as police clashed with protesters and lobbed tear gas after the ruling Islamist Ennahdha party rejected a plan to form a new government.

The protests now spreading across the country come after the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a leading secular opposition politician.  He was a staunch opponent of the moderate Islamists in power - and the growing clout of hardliners that Tunisians call Salafists.

The scenes are eerily reminiscent of Tunisia's revolution two years ago.  And like then, Tunisia's leaders bowed to public fury and announced the government's dissolution.

Addressing the nation Wednesday night, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he would form a new Cabinet of technocrats with no political affiliation. He said this government would be in place until new elections are held - which, he said, would happen as soon as possible.

But hours later, the ruling Ennahdha party rejected the dissolution, but said talks were underway to form a coalition government.

  • Supporters of the ruling Ennahda party shout slogans in support of the party during a demonstration in Tunis, Feb. 9, 2013.
  • A tear gas canister flies in the air as thousands of Tunisians gathered at el Jallez cemetery to attend the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • A Tunisian woman walks past burning cars during clashes with the police near the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • Riot police clash with protesters next to the cemetery where thousands of Tunisians gathered to attend the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid, near Tunis, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • Mourners carry the coffin of opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession, Tunis, Tunisia, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • A sticker with an image of the late opposition leader Chokri Belaid is seen as a woman mourns during his funeral procession, Tunis, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • Mourners carry the coffin of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession towards El-Jellaz cemetary, Tunis, Feb. 8, 2013.
  • Tunisians accompany the ambulance carrying the body of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, from his home to his father's home, Tunis, Feb. 7, 2013.
  • A woman cries over the coffin of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, in Tunis, Feb. 7, 2013.
  • Protesters gather on Tunis 'main avenue after a Tunisian opposition leader critical of the Islamist-led government was gunned down as he left home, Feb.6, 2013.
  • A protester gestures to police during clashes in Tunis, Feb. 6, 2013.
  • The body of Chokri Belaid, a prominent Tunisian opposition politician, is carried into an ambulance after he was shot, in Tunis Feb. 6, 2013.
  • Basma Chokri, the wife of assassinated prominent Tunisian opposition politician Chokri Belaid, mourns in Tunis Feb. 6, 2013.

Motives

In a telephone interview from Tunis, opposition politician Selma Rekik of the secular Nidaa Tounes party speculated Belaid's shooting death had been planned for a long time.

Rekik alleged there was a hit list targeting other secular figures. Belaid's family has blamed Ennahdha for his death - which the party strongly denies. Rekik said she was awaiting the results of an investigation.

But she said the government must dissolve the so-called "League for the Protection of the Revolution" a shadowy group of pro-Ennahdha militants who have been blamed for attacks on secular opposition groups and trade unions in recent months.

The new flare-up of violence has shaken this once-peaceful and staunchly secular North African country and the international community, which has praised Tunisia's steps toward democracy.

Speaking from Tunis, regional Human Rights Watch deputy director Eric Goldstein said Belaid's death may be Tunisia's first political assassination in half-a-century. Like others, the rights group is demanding a thorough investigation.

"The Algerian scenario is not far away," he said. "In other words, Algeria in the 1990s experienced dramatic and extensive political violence. Tunisia never had this - but this killing is something we thought Tunisia would never see. And so people are quite disturbed by it."

Rekik is among the many Tunisians who are drawing stark differences between the unrest of today and that of two years ago which ousted longtime dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

During the 2011 revolution, Rekik said, Tunisians were united in wanting the departure of Ben Ali's regime. Today, she said, the country is divided between Muslims and non-Muslims, elections have been delayed, and nothing is certain.

Belaid will be buried Friday.

Trade unions have called for a national strike the same day to protest his killing.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Victor Purinton from: Cambridge, MA
February 07, 2013 12:14 PM
Islamists don't believe in democracy. They will use it to take power, but once in power they respond to political challenges with violence. It is their religious duty, after all, to govern. Accepting secular governance is disobeying God.

Civil war between Islamists and secularists is coming to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

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