Tunisians protest after Mohamed Brahmi's assassination. Two days of demonstrations have called for the resignation of the Islamist government., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Protests hit Tunisia for second day after assassination
Fri, Jul 26 2013
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - Demonstrations swept Tunisia for a second day on Friday after the assassination of a secular opposition figure, with one protester killed and several injured in the southern city of Gafsa, witnesses said.
Late on Friday, 42 opposition members announced their resignation from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly to protest the killing on Thursday of Mohamed Brahmi, a member of the Popular Front party.
Khamis Kssila of the Nida Touns party told a news conference the departing members would begin a sit-in to demand the dissolution of the assembly and formation of a national salvation government, ideas rejected by Prime Minister Ali Larayedh.
The assembly, controlled by Islamists, is in charge of drafting a new constitution for the North African nation of 11 million people.
Divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents have deepened since Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011 in the first of the Arab Spring revolutions.
Two witnesses told Reuters that anti-government protester Mofti Mohamed died during protests in Gafsa on Friday night.
There were conflicting accounts of how he died.
There were also several people injured in Gafsa from teargas, witnesses said.
It was the first such death since protests erupted after Brahmi was shot 14 times, in the second killing of a secular politician in Tunisia this year.
Brahmi's family said his funeral would take place at 0800 GMT on Saturday.
Several thousand Islamists took to the streets of Tunis on Friday to defend the government from popular demands that it resign over the assassination of Brahmi.
Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou drew a direct link between the latest killing and the assassination of the Popular Front's leader, Chokri Belaid, on February 6, that stoked violent protests.
Aiming suspicion at a hardline Islamist, the minister said the same gun had been used in Thursday's killing as in the Belaid assassination.
"The same 9mm automatic weapon that killed Belaid also killed Brahmi," he told a news conference, naming the main suspect as Salafist Boubacar Hakim, already being sought on suspicion of smuggling weapons from Libya.
Authorities have identified 14 Salafists suspected of involvement in Belaid's assassination, and most were believed to be members of the local hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, he said.
Islamists and secular opponents staged rival protests over the future of Tunisia's Ennahda government.
"The people want Ennahda again!" and "No to a coup against democracy!" the Islamists chanted, rejecting demands for a new government of national unity.
Thousands of anti-government protesters also massed in the capital on Friday, while shops and banks closed their doors and all flights in and out of the country were canceled.
"Down with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood," the secular protesters chanted, referring to the ruling Ennahda party, which draws inspiration from the Brotherhood, a pan-Arab Islamist movement.
Evening protests also erupted in the cities of Kairaouan and Kef, where police fired teargas to disperse protesters.
Brahmi, 58, was a critic of the Ennahda-led ruling coalition and a member of the Constituent Assembly.
The Tunis stock exchange fell by 1.9 percent on Friday morning and the dinar currency was trading close to a record low against the euro.
Tunisia's political transition since the revolt that toppled Ben Ali has been relatively peaceful, with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party sharing power with smaller secular parties.
But the government has struggled to revive the economy and has come under fire from secularists who accuse it of failing to curb the activities of Salafi Islamists.
Events in Egypt, where the army overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi on July 3 after mass protests against him, have further energized the anti-Islamist opposition in Tunisia.
The government announced a day of national mourning on Friday, and radio stations broadcast patriotic songs.
Thousands also protested peacefully on Friday against the government in the cities of Sfax, Kairouan, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the Tunisian revolution, where protesters set fire to two Ennahda party offices the previous day.
Ben Ali's downfall unleashed unrest across the North Africa and the Middle East, unseating rulers in Egypt, leading to imperialist war against Libya and cosmetic changes in Yemen, and a U.S.-backed war against Syria.
Rached Ghannouchi, the Ennahda party leader, said the attack on Brahmi was aimed at "halting Tunisia's democratic process and killing the only successful model in the region, especially after the violence in Egypt, Syria and Libya".
The assassination occurred as the country prepares to vote in the next few weeks on the new constitution before a presidential election later in the year.
The turmoil dealt another blow to efforts to revive Tunisia's vital tourism industry. Cultural events, including the Carthage Festival, were suspended following Brahmi's killing.
(Additional reporting by Fatma Matoussi; Writing by Giles Elgood and David Stamp; Editing by Will Waterman)