Tunisians mark politician's assassination

Largest public demonstration since murder of Shokri Belaid turns into rally against Ennahda-led government.

    Tunisians mark politician's assassination
    Belaid, a leftist lawyer, was shot at close range outside his Tunis home on February 6 [Reuters]

    Thousands of Tunisians have taken to the streets of the capital Tunis to demand the fall of the Islamist government they blame for the assassination of a leading secular politician 40 days earlier.

    Saturday's demonstration was the biggest since Shokri Belaid was killed outside his house on February 6, leading to the worst unrest since the Jasmine Revolution that toppled long-time President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and started the Arab Spring.

    The protesters blamed the Islamist Ennahda party for Belaid's murder and chanted "Ennahda go", "The people want a new revolution" and "The people want to bring down the regime".

    "They killed Shokri but they cannot kill the values of freedom defended by him," Belaid's widow Basma said in front of her husband's grave.

    Family blames Ennahda

    No one has claimed responsibility for the killing, which Belaid's family blames on Ennahda. The party denies involvement and police say the killer was a Salafist Islamist.

    Belaid, a leftist lawyer, was shot at close range outside his Tunis home by an assassin who fled on a motorcycle.

    His nine-party Popular Front bloc has only three seats in Tunisia's Constituent Assembly, which is acting as parliament and writing a new national charter, compared to some 120 for Ennahda and its partners.

    But Belaid spoke for many who fear religious radicals are stifling freedoms won in the Arab Spring.

    In a bid to defuse the protests, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned and was replaced by Ali Larayedh, a fellow member of the Islamist Ennahda party, who formed a new coalition government including independents in key ministries.

    The new government won a confidence vote on Wednesday, although the death of an unemployed man who set himself on fire underscored popular discontent with high unemployment, inflation and corruption.

    Liberal-Islamist tensions

    Tunisia's transition has been more peaceful than those in Egypt and Libya, and has led to freedom of expression and political pluralism.

    Tensions, however, run high between liberals and the Islamists, who did not play a major role in the revolt but were elected to power.

    The government is also pressing ahead with tax rises and subsidy cuts to reduce this year's projected budget deficit of six percent of gross domestic product, despite a storm of public criticism.

    Lacking the huge oil and gas resources of neighbours Libya and Algeria, Tunisia's compact size, relatively skilled workforce and close ties with Europe have kept alive hopes that it can set an example of economic progress for the region.

    Tourism is a major foreign currency earner for the country, and the government will be hoping that it can maintain stable conditions to allow foreigners to return to the country in the numbers needed to sustain the sector.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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