Protesters call for Tunisian government to be toppled after assassination of opposition figure

Saturday 27 July 2013 12.40
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Mohamed Brahmi's death has further deepened divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents
Mohamed Brahmi's death has further deepened divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents
Soldiers leading the funeral procession this morning
Soldiers leading the funeral procession this morning
Protesters gathered outside the Interior Ministry after the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi on Thursday
Protesters gathered outside the Interior Ministry after the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi on Thursday

Tens of thousands of Tunisians turned out for the funeral of assassinated secular politician Mohamed Brahmi this morning, and called for the Islamist-led government to be toppled.

Military helicopters hovered overhead and hundreds of troops and police lined the route of a procession attended by Mr Brahmi's widow and son and several prominent politicians.

"The people want to topple the regime!" and "With our blood and with our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr!" people in the crowd shouted.

Mr Brahmi's family has claimed Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, was behind the killing.

Mr Ghannouchi has denounced Thursday's assassination as an attack on democracy.

Mr Brahmi's death further deepened divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents that emerged after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011 in the first of the revolutions that also removed leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Witnesses said one man was killed early this morning in an anti-government protest in the southern city of Gafsa.

Violence also broke out in several other cities.

A bomb in a police car exploded in Tunis but caused no casualties.

The death of Mr Brahmi, a secular opposition figure, shot dead outside his Tunis home on Thursday, came months after another secular leader, Chokri Belaid, was killed in a similar attack that stoked violent protests.

Mr Brahmi is to be buried near Mr Belaid's tomb at the Al Jalez cemetery in central Tunis, and mourners carried portraits of both slain politicians.

Late last night, 42 opposition members announced their resignation from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly to protest against the killing of Mr Brahmi, a member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party.

Khamis Kssila of the Nida Touns party said 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 nation of 11 million people.

Several thousand Islamists took to the streets of Tunis yesterday to defend the government from popular demands that it resign over the assassination.

Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou drew a direct link between the latest killing and the assassination of the Popular Front's leader Mr Belaid.

Aiming suspicion at a hardline Islamist, the minister said the same gun had been used in Thursday's killing as in the Belaid attack.

"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 Mr Belaid's assassination, and most were believed to be members of the local hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, he said.

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.

Divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents have deepened since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011 in the first of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Late last night, 42 opposition members announced their resignation from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly to protest against the killing of Mr Brahmi, a member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party.

Khamis Kssila of the Nida Touns party said 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 nation of 11 million people.

Several thousand Islamists took to the streets of Tunis yesterday to defend the government from popular demands that it resign over the assassination.

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 6 February, which also 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 Mr Belaid's assassination, and most were believed to be members of the local hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, he said.

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.

Keywords: tunisia

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