CAIRO -- A leading opponent of Tunisia's Islamist-led government was assassinated in front of his home Wednesday, raising fears of sharpening political turmoil in the country that ignited the Arab Spring movement but remains starkly divided between liberals and Islamists.
Chokri Belaid, head of the Unified Democratic Nationalist Party, was shot on his way to work in the capital, Tunis, according to authorities. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, but it comes as Tunisia faces a troubled economy and a restive transition to democracy after decades of dictatorship.
"This is a criminal act, and an act of terrorism not only against Belaid but against the whole of Tunisia," Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali told a radio station. Shortly after the killing, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Interior Ministry.
An outspoken liberal with a bushy mustache, Belaid often criticized Ennahda, the dominant moderate Islamist party, for failing to unite the country's political factions. He had accused Ennahda of not clamping down on increasingly violent ultraconservative Salafis from attacking movie houses, art galleries and institutions they deem as against Islam.
Belaid's family told Tunisian media that he had received repeated death threats.
"Chokri Belaid was killed today by four bullets to the head and chest ... doctors told us that he has died. This is a sad day for Tunisia," Ziad Lakhader, a leader of the opposition Popular Front, was quoted as saying to Reuters.
Tunisian President President Moncef Marzouki, who was traveling in France, said he would cancel a planned trip to Cairo on Thursday and return home.