Brahmi assassination: Tunisian union stages strike

The shooting prompted fresh protests across Tunisia even as Mr Brahmi was taken to hospital

Tunisia is experiencing a nationwide strike after protests over the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi.

The biggest trade union, UGTT, called the shutdown to denounce general "terrorism, violence and murders".

On Thursday police used tear gas to disperse protesters in several towns, after Mr Brahmi was shot dead outside his home in Tunis.

The governing Islamist Ennahda party has rejected accusations from relatives that it was complicit in the killing.

Analysis

"Who will be next?" is a question that many people are asking following the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi on Thursday. They fear that a hit list has been drawn up, with Mr Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, who was shot dead in February, being the first targets.

Mr Brahmi's assassination took place on Republic Day, making many people conclude that the message of the gunmen was clear - they want to prevent Tunisia from becoming a democracy.

The suspicion is that regional instability is spilling over into Tunisia, with Algerian fighters linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) involved in Mr Brahmi's assassination. There is also suspicion of Libyan involvement, following a claim by the interior ministry that a gun from there was used to kill him.

Rival Libyan militias have been fighting along the Algerian border, and people are worried that Libyan weapons and militiamen are increasingly finding their way into Tunisia. But it is the possible involvement of AQIM that worries people the most.

Unidentified gunmen on a motorbike shot Mr Brahmi - who led the Movement of the People party - in his car on Thursday morning.

The interior ministry has said a weapon from Libya was used to kill him and is expected to release further details about the assassination on Friday.

Mr Brahmi is the second politician to be killed so far this year. In February, the murder of prominent secular figure Chokri Belaid sparked mass protests and forced then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to resign.

He was not as prominent as Mr Belaid or as critical of Ennahda, which came to power after the overthrow of long-term ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

The BBC's Sihem Hassaini in the capital, Tunis, says he was not a secularist, he was a socialist and practising Muslim with a pan-Arab ideology and even though he was from the opposition he did not have a reputation of being very critical of the Islamists.

Given this difference some Tunisians feel this is proof that Ennahda is in no way involved, she says.

After the UGTT issued its strike call, on Thursday protesters gathered in cities across the country to call for the government to resign. Police fired tear gas during disturbances that continued overnight.

Demonstrators attacked Ennahda's headquarters in Sidi Bouzid, Mr Brahmi's hometown and the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolutions, which have swept the Middle East.

Mohamed Brahmi: Key facts

File photo of Mohamed Brahmi
  • 58-years-old
  • MP for Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of Arab Spring
  • Leader of a small left-wing party, the Popular Movement
  • Promoted pan-Arabism and socialism
  • Far lower profile then Chokri Belaid, who was assassinated in February
  • Practising Muslim, unlike Mr Belaid
  • Critic of government, but also had many friends in the main Islamist party, Ennahda
  • His wife blames Ennahda for his killing; others disagree

One protester in the town told Reuters news agency: "They (Ennahda) gave the green light to kill Tunisian people. We used to support them. But now, they want to get rid of us."

The UGTT called for a two-hour strike on Friday. All Tunisair flights to and from the country have been cancelled throughout the day.

Friday is also a day of planned protests, a sit-in is taking place at the National Constituent Assembly in the capital and supporters of Ennahda have called for a demonstration after Friday prayers to protest about the killing, our reporter says.

'Catastrophe'

The family of Mr Brahmi has accused Ennahda of being behind the killing.

The party's chief - Prime Minister Rached Ghannouchi - rejected the charge, calling Brahmi's killing "a catastrophe for Tunisia".

In an interview with AFP news agency, he said: "Those behind this crime want to lead the country towards civil war and to disrupt the democratic transition."

Meanwhile President Moncef Marzouki told France's Le Monde newspaper he had "no doubt" that Mr Belaid and Mr Brahmi had been assassinated by the same people, and that the killers' aim was to destabilise Tunisia.

There has been deep division in the country between Islamists and secular opponents since Ennahda came to power.

The party has faced growing popular unrest over a faltering economy and a rising extremist Islamist movement.

Correspondents say many Tunisians, particularly the young, complain that their quest for secular democracy has been hijacked by intolerant Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which forms part of the current government.

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