Tunisia’s prime minister has said that he will dissolve the Islamist-led government and form a national unity administration, following the killing of prominent secular opposition leader Shokri Belaid in front of his home.
Hamadi Jebali announced during a speech to the nation on Wednesday that he will form a cabinet of technocrats to run the country until elections are held.
“After the failure of negotiations between parties on a cabinet reshuffle, I decided to form a small technocrat government,” Jebali said.
He said the ministers would not run for office but elections would subsequently be held as soon as possible.
An official source told Reuters news agency earlier on that Jebali’s decision was a personal one taken in the interests of the country.
Belaid, leader of the left-leaning Democratic Patriots party, was killed on Wednesday as he was leaving his home.
He was transported to a hospital in the suburbs of Tunis where he died of his wounds, his brother confirmed.
Following news of Belaid’s death, violence and protests broke out on the streets of Tunis.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Janabi in Tunis reported violent clashes between Belaid’s supporters and police along the main Habib Borguiba Avenue, with the police using tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters and making numerous arrests.
Earlier, crowds of mourners, chanting “the people want the fall of the regime”, crowded around an ambulance carrying Belaid’s body.
As the protests intensified, four Tunisian opposition groups, including the Popular Front, of which the Democratic Patriots is a component, announced they were pulling out of the national assembly.
Critical of Islamists
Belaid had been critical of Tunisia’s leadership, especially the Islamist party Ennahda that dominates the government.
He had accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam.
Samir Dilou, a government spokesperson, called Belaid’s killing an “odious crime”.
|Anti-government protesters clashed with police, who retaliated with tear gas [Ahmed Janabi/Al Jazeera]
Moncef Marzouki, the Tunisian president, said he would fight those who opposed the political transition in his country after the death of Belaid.
Marzouki, who cut short a visit to France on Wednesday, told legislators at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to applause: “We will continue to fight the enemies of the revolution.”
Marzouki also cancelled a visit to Egypt scheduled for Thursday after the killing, which brought thousands of protesters onto the streets outside the Interior Ministry.
Chanting for the fall of the Ennahda-led government, demonstrators shouted “Shame, shame Shokri died”, “Where is the government?”, and “The government should fall”.
Omar bin Ali, a member of the Tunisian Trade Unions, was present at the demonstration site and said “the Islamists were responsible for Belaid’s death”.
“This is what they have been calling for in mosques,” bin Ali told Al Jazeera.
Ruling out the possibility of external factors, he said “Tunisia is a friend of all nations. It is hard to think of anyone from abroad to do this to us,” adding that “the people want the whole government out as they proved to be useless”.
The assassination comes as Tunisia is struggling to maintain stability and revive its economy after its longtime dictator was overthrown in an uprising two years ago.
Mohammed Jmour, another opposition leader, criticised the government in a press conference on Wednesday for failing to protect Belaid against stated threats.
“Threats of plunging into a whirlpool of violence that can be caused by a number of bodies, the state, the revolution guarding committees and armed groups,” Jmour said.
“Only yesterday, a number of questions were raised … and Shokri repeatedly emphasised this particular issue. He personally had felt threats to his safety.”
The Tunisian revolution set off revolts across the Arab world and unleashed new social and religious tensions.
Ennahda won 42 percent of seats in the first post-Arab uprising elections in October 2011 and formed a government in coalition with two secular parties, Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.
However, the government has faced many protests over economic hardship.