x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Two Tunisian political assassinations, 'same gun'

Ballistic tests show opposition member Mohammed Brahmi was shot dead with the same weapon used to kill Chokri Belaid, another government critic, in February.

Tunisians protest against the government on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis yesterday. Fethi Belaid / AFP
Tunisians protest against the government on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis yesterday. Fethi Belaid / AFP

TUNIS // The gun used to kill Mohammed Brahmi on Thursday was the same one used to assassinate another Tunisian opposition politician this year, the government said yesterday.

The revelation came as rival demonstrations took place in the Tunisian capital.

Those supporting the government were stronger in numbers and energy than the anti-government demonstrators.

Those against the government turned out in response to a call for mass protests after the assassination of Brahmi, a leftist politician and fierce critic of the dominant Islamist Ennahda party.

Interior minister Lotfi ben Jeddou said Brahmi was killed by the same semi-automatic weapon used to assassinate opposition politician Chokri Belaid in February this year, citing a ballistics report.

Mr ben Jeddou named Boubaker Hakim, who he described as a hardline Salafist, as one of two of the main perpetrators of the attacks, state media said.

Four of the eight suspects in the two murders have been arrested.

A countrywide strike called by the powerful national trade union was widely observed yesterday, with shops and banks closed.

Brahmi's Popular Front, a movement called Tamarod after the rebel movement in Egypt that was instrumental in felling the president this month, and the Call for Tunisia party called for demonstrations and civil disobedience campaigns.

The National Constituent Assembly cancelled a plenary session yesterday as hundreds of people held a protest outside, calling for it to be disbanded.

A common complaint is that the assembly, the interim parliament, has overrun its mandate by 10 months, with some saying it has lost legitimacy.

On Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the capital's main thoroughfare, a few hundred demonstrators holding pictures of Brahmi gathered outside the interior ministry, calling for the government to step down.

But the anti-government demonstrators were vastly outnumbered by enthusiastic supporters of Ennadha, which won a hefty plurality of votes in elections nearly two years ago.

After noon prayers at the Fath mosque in downtown Tunis, which has become a focal point for Islamists, a shout of "Allahu akbar" rose up and echoed round the surrounding streets.

Thousands of men and women streamed out of the mosque in a jubilant mood, making victory signs as they surged down the street chanting that the Tunisian people were Muslim and wanted to re-elect Ennahda all over again.

They carried banners, mainly red Tunisian flags with a sprinkling of Ennahda banners, and one black banner adopted by some more hardline Islamist groups.

The crowd marched to Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a 10-minute walk, chanting and singing as they went and swamping the anti-government protesters on their arrival.

There were a few scuffles, but no significant violence nor police involvement as of yesterday afternoon.

Tunisian television news showed footage of large, angry demonstrations in Brahmi's home town of Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising that toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali began in 2010.

Large crowds are likely to gather today for Brahmi's funeral in the Jellaz cemetery in the capital. President Moncef Marzouki gave the army chief the job of preparing a state funeral for the slain politician. His family has condemned the killing and held Ennahda responsible.

His daughter Balkis Brahmi, 19, said Ennahda "killed my father and I hold its leader Rached Ghannouchi personally responsible.

"He lived as a man of principle and has left us a martyr."