Rival Tunisian protests into second day

42 opposition members announced their resignation from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly to protest the killing on Thursday of Mohamed Brahmi

Rival Tunisian protests into second day

World Bulletin/News Desk

Demonstrations swept Tunisia for a second day on Friday after the assassination of a secular opposition figure, with one protester killed and several injured in the southern city of Gafsa, witnesses said.

Late on Friday, 42 opposition members announced their resignation from the 217-seat Constituent Assembly to protest the killing on Thursday of Mohamed Brahmi, a member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party.

Khamis Kssila of the Nida Touns party told a news conference the departing members would begin a sit-in to demand the dissolution of the assembly and formation of a national salvation government, ideas rejected by Prime Minister Ali Larayedh.

The assembly is in charge of drafting a new constitution for the North African nation of 11 million people.

Meanwhile several thousands took to the streets of Tunis on Friday to defend the government from popular demands that it resign over the assassination of Brahmi.

Divisions between the ruling Islamists and their secular opponents have deepened since Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011 in the first of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Two witnesses told Reuters that anti-government protester Mofti Mohamed died during protests in Gafsa on Friday night. There were conflicting accounts of how he died.

It was the first such death since protests erupted after Brahmi was shot 14 times, in the second killing in Tunisia this year.

Brahmi's family said his funeral would take place at 0800 GMT on Saturday.

Lotfi Ben Jeddou told a news conference: "The same 9mm automatic weapon that killed Belaid also killed Brahmi."

He named the main suspect as Salafist Boubacar Hakim, already being sought on suspicion of smuggling weapons from Libya.

Ben Jeddou said authorities had identified 14 Salafists suspected of involvement in Belaid's assassination, and that most were believed to be members of the local group Ansar al-Sharia.

The group's leader, Saifallah Benahssine, also known as Abu Iyadh, fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and is wanted by police on suspicion of inciting an attack on the U.S. embassy in September.

DUELING PROTESTS

"The people want Ennahda again!" and "No to a coup against democracy!" supporters of the government chanted, rejecting demands for a new government of national unity.

Anti-government protesters also massed in the capital on Friday, while shops and banks closed their doors and all flights in and out of the country were cancelled.

"Down with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood," the secular protesters chanted, referring to the ruling Ennahda party, which draws inspiration from the Brotherhood, a pan-Arab Islamist movement.

The Tunis stock exchange fell by 1.9 percent on Friday morning and the dinar currency was trading close to a record low against the euro.

Tunisia's political transition since the revolt that toppled Ben Ali has been relatively peaceful, with the Ennahda party sharing power with smaller secular parties.

But the government has struggled to revive the economy and has come under fire from secularists who accuse it of failing to curb the activities of Salafis.

Rached Ghannouchi, the Ennahda party leader, said the attack on Brahmi was aimed at "halting Tunisia's democratic process and killing the only successful model in the region, especially after the violence in Egypt, Syria and Libya".

The assassination occurred as the country prepares to vote in the next few weeks on the new constitution before a presidential election later in the year.

The turmoil dealt another blow to efforts to revive Tunisia's vital tourism industry. Cultural events, including the Carthage Festival, were suspended following Brahmi's killing.

Last Mod: 27 Temmuz 2013, 10:10
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