Tunisian crisis deepens after opposition leader's killing
Published 08/02/2013 | 04:00
Tunisia's governing Islamists have rejected a plan by the prime minister to replace the government after unrest erupted over the killing of an opposition leader, deepening the worst crisis since the country's 2011 revolution.
Protests resumed in the North African state that gave birth to the Arab Spring uprisings, with police firing teargas to scatter demonstrators near the interior ministry in Tunis and stone-throwing youths in the southern town of Gafsa. At least seven people were wounded in Gafsa, witnesses said.
Labour union leaders declared a strike for today in protest at the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid and his family said the funeral could be held then too, raising the spectre of further turmoil.
An aide to Hussein Abassi, leader of the UGTT union, Tunisia's biggest, said he had received a death threat after announcing the country's first general strike in 34 years.
Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali of Ennahda announced he would dismiss the government led by his moderate Islamist party in favour of a non-partisan cabinet until elections could be held, as soon as possible. But a senior Ennahda official said Mr Jebali had not sought approval from his party, suggesting the Islamist group was split over the move to supplant the governing coalition.
"The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party," said Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda's vice-president. "We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition."
Tunisia's main opposition parties also rebuffed any step towards a government of technocrats, demanding too that they be consulted before any new cabinet is formed.
Political analysts said protracted deadlock could aggravate the unrest, which has underscored the chasm between Islamists and secular groups who fear that freedoms of expression, cultural liberty and women's rights are in jeopardy just two years after the dictatorship crumbled.
Mr Belaid was shot on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on the back of a motorcycle. No one claimed responsibility for the killing, and Ennahda said the party had nothing to do with it.