Tunisia hit by strike
26 July 2013, 18:00
Tunis - Tunisia marked a day of mourning on Friday after
gunmen killed a leading opposition figure, sparking fresh political turmoil,
protests and a general strike which brought Tunis to near standstill.
National airline Tunisair and European airlines cancelled
flights, with more street protests expected amid allegations of government
connivance in Thursday's killing.
MP Mohamed Brahmi, 58, of the leftist and nationalist
Popular Movement, was assassinated outside his home in Ariana, near Tunis, by
gunmen on a motorbike, witnesses said.
The state prosecutor's office said an autopsy found that
Brahmi, whose family and political colleagues said he was to be buried as a
"martyr" on Saturday in a Tunis cemetery, had been mowed down by a
hail of 14 bullets.
Balkis Brahimi, 19, one of his five children, said her
father was killed by two men in black on a motorbike.
"At around midday, we heard gunfire and my father
crying with pain. We rushed out -- my brother, mother and I -- to find his body
riddled with bullets at the wheel of his car parked in front of the
house," the red-eyed young woman told AFP.
"Despite the horror of it all, I spotted two men
fleeing on a scooter, in black T-shirts and wearing helmets, one red and the
other beige," she said.
"Local police took a long time coming and a neighbour
took my father to hospital, where he died. He lived as a man of principle and
has left us a martyr," she said, fighting back tears.
Human Rights Watch said that Brahmi's son, Adnen, had told
its researchers he heard a first and a second gunshot, then several other shots
as if from a machine gun.
"A slide into hell"
As news of the killing spread, thousands of angry protesters
took to the streets on Thursday in central Tunis and in Sidi Bouzid, birthplace
of the Arab Spring and Brahmi's hometown.
Police in Tunis fired tear gas to disperse scores of
demonstrators who tried to set up a tent for a sit-in calling for the fall of
the regime after the second such slaying of a critic of the country's Islamist
Tunisian newspapers on Friday forecast a destabilisation of
the country, with La Presse warning of "a slide into hell".
"Rather than isolated acts, violence is being turned
into a system. By whom? By people determined to seize power or to stay in
power," Le Quotidien said, pointing a finger of blame at the government
led by the moderate Islamist movement Ennahda.
According to analyst Sami Brahem, "the reasons behind
the assassination of Chokri Belaid are the same as those which led to the
murder of Mohamed Brahem: to bring about the failure of the democratic
The February 6 assassination of Belaid, another opposition
figure, also outside his home, sparked a political crisis in Tunisia and
charges of Ennahda involvement.
Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the main opposition party Nidaa
Tounes, said Ennahda was to blame because it had failed to identify the killers
of Belaid. "There has not been any serious judicial action," he told
The General Union of Tunisian Labour (UGTT), which says it
has half a million members, called Friday's general strike in protest at
"terrorism, violence and murders".
UGTT deputy secretary general Sami Tahri reported that all
sectors across the country were observing the strike, singling out banks,
health services and most public transport.
The Tunisian presidency, meanwhile, told AFP that Friday
would be observed as a day of national mourning "following the
assassination of lawmaker martyr Mohamed Brahmi".
But like after the Belaid murder, Ennahda was back in the
firing line of accusations.
"I accuse Ennahda," the MP's sister Chhiba Brahmi
told AFP at the family home in Sidi Bouzid. "It was them who killed
him," she said.
Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi rejected the charge in a
statement to AFP.
Brahmi's killing was "a catastrophe for Tunisia",
he said. "Those behind this crime want to lead the country towards civil
war and to disrupt the democratic transition."
Political tension has been rising in Tunisia, with the
launch of the country's own version of the Tamarod (rebellion) movement
launched in Egypt that led to the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned Brahmi's
killing, adding her voice to calls by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay,
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for an investigation.
Brahmi was elected MP in October 2011 for Sidi Bouzid,
birthplace of the revolution earlier that year that toppled president Zine El
Abidine Ben Ali. On July 7, he resigned as general secretary of the Popular
Movement, which he founded, saying it had been infiltrated by Islamists.