Tunisia Rages In Protest Of Assassinating Progressive Leader
06 February, 2013
Tunisia is raging in protest after a progressive leader has been shot dead. Demonstrating people have set on fire and ransacked Islamist party’s offices.
An iafrica.co report headlined “Tunisians angry over killing” (Feb 6, 2013, http://news.iafrica.com/worldnews/841124.html) said:
Prominent Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid was shot dead outside his home in Tunis on February 6, 2013, sparking angry protests by his supporters and attacks on offices of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party.
President Moncef Marzouki denounced the killing of Belaid, an outspoken critic of his government, as an "odious assassination", while Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi told AFP the killers wanted a "bloodbath" in Tunisia.
The cold-blooded killing sparked outrage, with some 2000 people gathering outside the interior ministry in Tunis, shouting abuse at Ennahda, which they accuse of being behind the assassination of the 48-year-old leftist leader.
Protesters torched the Ennahda party office in Mezzouna, near the central town of Sidi Bouzid, and ransacked another in the mining town of Gafsa, where they tore up Ennahda flags, AFP journalists and witnesses said.
Some 2000 protesters also took to the streets of Sidi Bouzid itself, birthplace of the 2011 revolution that toppled ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, where they were met by police tear gas, witnesses said.
Marzouki deplored the killing in an impassioned speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg that brought tears to the eyes of politicians.
"This odious assassination of a political leader who I knew well and who was my friend ... is a threat, it is a letter sent that will not be received," the president said, insisting the murder would not tip Tunisia to unrest.
"We refuse this message and we will continue to unmask the enemies of the revolution," he said, though Tunisia's path was "paved with hurdles," including "orchestrated verbal violence, burnt preachers" and the murder of Belaid.
A presidential aide said Marzouki had scrapped plans to head from Strasbourg to Cairo to join a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and instead would fly home immediately to deal with the crisis.
The family of Belaid, who headed the opposition Democratic Patriots party and was a harsh critic of Tunisia's Islamist-led government, was in no doubt as to who was behind the murder.
"My brother was assassinated. I am desperate and depressed," said Abdelmajid Belaid.
"I accuse (Ennahda leader) Rached Ghannouchi of assassinating my brother," he told AFP.
Ghannouchi rejected the accusations and said the killing was linked to the "settling of political scores".
"(The killers) want a bloodbath but they won't succeed" in creating one, Ghannouchi told AFP.
"We can only condemn this cowardly act, which is aimed at (undermining) the revolution and the stability of Tunisia," he added.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali described the murder as "an act of terrorism".
He said a gunman wearing the traditional hooded long burnous robe shot Belaid with three bullets fired at close range as he left his Tunis home February 6, 2013 morning.
Belaid's wife gave a similar account of the killing in an interview with the private radio station Mosaique FM.
Jebali told the same radio station everything possible would be done to swiftly arrest the murderer.
"The Tunisian people are not used to such things. This is a serious turn ... our duty to all, as a government, as a people, is to be wise and not fall into the criminal trap which seeks to push the country into chaos."
France's President Francois Hollande said the murder had robbed Tunisia of "one of its most courageous and free voices."
The murder of Belaid comes at a time when Tunisia is witnessing a rise in violence fed by political and social discontent two years after the mass uprising that toppled Ben Ali.
Several opposition parties and trade unions have accused pro-Islamist groups of orchestrating clashes or attacks against them.
Belaid's party forms part of the Popular Front coalition of leftist parties that has emerged in opposition to the Tunisia government
A TUNIS datelined Reuters report by Tarek Amara (“Tunisia protests after government critic shot dead”, Feb 6, 2013, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/02/06/uk-tunisia-politics-opponent-idUKBRE9150AO20130206?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews) said:
A Tunisian opposition politician was shot dead sending protesters onto the streets of cities nationwide.
The headquarters of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which rules in a fractious coalition with secularists, was set ablaze after Chokri Belaid, an outspoken critic of the government, was gunned down outside his home in the capital.
Despite calls for calm from the president, 8,000 protesters, massed outside the Interior Ministry, calling for the fall of the government, and thousands more demonstrated in cities including Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the revolution, where police fired teargas and warning shots.
"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 Interior Ministry in Tunis. "Tunisia will sink in the blood if you stay in power."
The small North African state was the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections as uprisings spread around the region.
But like in Egypt, many who campaigned for freedom from repression under autocratic rulers and better prospects for their future now feel their revolutions have been hijacked by Islamists they accuse of clamping down on personal freedoms, with no sign of new jobs or improvements in infrastructure.
Since the uprising, the government has faced a string of protests over economic hardship and Tunisia's future path, with many complaining hardline Salafists were taking over the revolution in the former French colony dominated previously by a secular elite under the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Last year, Salafist groups prevented several concerts and plays from taking place in Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles, worrying the secular-minded among the 11 million Tunisians, who fear freedom of expression is in danger.
Declining trade with the crisis-hit euro zone has also left Tunisians struggling to achieve the better living standards many had hoped for following Ben Ali's departure. Any further signs of unrest could scare off tourists vital to an industry only just recovering from the revolution.
"More than 4,000 are protesting now, burning tyres and throwing stones at the police," Mehdi Horchani, a Sidi Bouzid resident, told Reuters. "There is great anger."
President Moncef Marzouki, who last month warned the tension between secularists and Islamists might lead to "civil war", cancelled a visit to Egypt scheduled for February 7, 2013 and cut short a trip to France, where he addressed the European Parliament.
"We will continue to fight the enemies of the revolution," the secularist leader told European Union lawmakers in Strasbourg.
Belaid, who died in hospital, was a leading member of the opposition Popular Front party. A lawyer and human rights activist, he had been a constant critic of the government, accusing it of being a puppet of the rulers in the small but wealthy Gulf state of Qatar, which Tunisia denies.
"Chokri Belaid was killed today by four bullets to the head and chest," Ziad Lakhader, a leader of the Popular Front, told Reuters. "Doctors told us that he has died. This is a sad day for Tunisia."
Ennahda Party president Rached Ghannouchi denied any involvement in the killing. Belaid said earlier this week that dozens of people close to the government attacked a meeting of his party.
Riccardo Fabiani, Eurasia analyst on Tunisia, described it as a "major failure for Tunisian politics".
"The question is now what is Ennahda going to do and what are its allies going to do?" he said. "They could be forced to withdraw from the government which would lead to a major crisis in the transition."
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