Tunisia’s Islamist prime minister has said he is to dissolve parliament and form a unity government of technocrats after the assassination of a leading secular politician set off widespread protests.
Speaking on television on Wednesday night, prime minister Hemadi Jebali pledged fresh elections and the dissolution of his cabinet.
“I have decided to form a government of competent nationals without political affiliation, which will have a mandate limited to managing the affairs of the country until elections are held in the shortest possible time,” Jebali said.
Chokri Belaid, the head of an opposition coalition of secular parties called the Popular Front, was shot and killed outside his home in Tunis on Wednesday as he was getting into his car. The interior minister, citing witnesses, said two unidentified gunmen fired on Belaid, striking him with four bullets.
Belaid had been a vocal critic of Islamist violence. He had accused the ruling party, Ennahda, of not doing enough to tackle it.
Thousands of protestors took to the streets, calling for the government to resign. “The interior minister holds personal responsibility for the assassination of Chokri Belaid, because he knew he was threatened and he did nothing,” Nejib Chebbi, leader of the allied secular Republican Party, said.
Protesters gathered on the same boulevard, near the Interior Ministry, where 2011's anti-government protests resulted in the toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After they began throwing bottles, police responded by firing tear gas, chasing the protesters and beating them with batons.
Wednesday's crowds chanted the same slogan as in 2011: "The people want the fall of the regime!" The chants "No to Ennahda" and "Ghannouchi assassin" were also heard, referring to the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi. As the police took action, demonstrators sought cover in nearby buildings.
“My brother was assassinated. I am desperate and depressed,” Abdelmajid Belaid told AFP. “I accuse Rached Ghannouchi of assassinating my brother,”
Ghannouchi condemned Belaid's murder.
There were calls for a general strike on Thursday. Belaid's family said his funeral, another possible flashpoint, might not be held until Friday.
jm/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)