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Protests erupt after second Tunisia opposition figure assassinated

Medics carry away the body of slain opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi for an autopsy as protesters gather outside a hospital in Tunis, Tunisia.
(Mohamed Messara / European Pressphoto Agency)

TUNIS, Tunisia — A Tunisian opposition figure was shot to death at his home Thursday, igniting widespread protests after the second high-profile political assassination this year in a country strained by the conflict between Islamist and secular forces.

Mohammed Brahmi, a member of parliament, was shot 11 times in front of his wife and daughter by men on a motorbike, according to news reports. Brahmi, an Arab nationalist, served on the contentious panel that wrote Tunisia’s proposed constitution.

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His death followed the assassination in February of Chokri Belaid, a passionate leftist and frequent critic of the country’s dominant Islamist party, Nahda. Belaid’s slaying led to days of nationwide demonstrations that threatened Tunisia’s economic stability and forced a reshuffling of the government.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, which was similar to the shooting of Belaid. Brahmi’s death quickly renewed criticism of Nahda, which leads the government, for not reining in Islamic extremism in this North African country, which was the birthplace of the so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

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Brahmi’s son, Adnen, told a private radio station, “Nahda is responsible for the murder of my father.”

But Nahda was quick to issue a statement that condemned “this cowardly and despicable crime” and urged the government to “arrest those who committed this crime and reveal those behind them who have targeted the stability of the country.”

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Thousands of protesters gathered in Tunis and other cities after the attack, many of them chanting, “Down with the rule of Islamists.” The Nahda headquarters and the municipal building in Sidi Bouzid were set on fire. Civil rights groups called for an investigation of the killing and warned that the nation’s democratic transition was in danger.

“Little has been done by the authorities to ensure that reported attacks against members of the opposition are adequately investigated and those responsible are brought to justice, fueling a climate of impunity and increasing political polarization,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International.

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The government has said that at least six extremists plotted Belaid’s slaying. Tunisian security forces have grown increasingly concerned about Islamic militants, including foreign fighters, who are operating in the provinces.

Brahmi was a member of the People’s Movement party, but he left the group this month to form his own organization. His assassination came on the 56th anniversary of Tunisia’s becoming a republic after years of French colonization.

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“This was the second horrible episode of a plot in the true sense of the word, whose goal is to put the country in a critical situation,” said Hamadi Jebali, a Nahda member who resigned as prime minister after Belaid’s death.

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Fleishman reported from Cairo and special correspondent Addala from Tunis.


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