x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Tunisian mourners call for Ennahda to step down

Simmering anger at government as Mohammed Brahmi's funeral is buried in Tunis after becoming the second Tunisian opposition leader to be assassinated this year.

Mourners carry the coffin of the slain opposition leader Mohammed Brahmi at his funeral procession in Tunis on Saturday. Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters
Mourners carry the coffin of the slain opposition leader Mohammed Brahmi at his funeral procession in Tunis on Saturday. Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

TUNIS // Thousands of people gathered to bury an assassinated politician in Tunis yesterday, angrily blaming the government for his death as protests simmered nationwide and a small bomb exploded in a suburb of the capital.

Soldiers in dress uniform officiated at the funeral of Mohammed Brahmi, a left-wing leader who was gunned down on Thursday morning outside his house by two unidentified assailants on a motorcycle.

Draped with a Tunisian flag and scattered with rose petals, his coffin was borne through the Jellaz cemetery by thousands of people, who sang the national anthem and called for the government to step down.

Brahmi's relatives have stated clearly that they hold the dominant Islamist party, Ennahda, responsible for his death. The manner of the politician's killing was very similar to that of Chokri Belaid, also an opposition politician, in February, which prompted calls for the government to step down and led to the resignation of the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali.

Ennahda have denied the accusations, and the interior ministry has named suspects from extremist groups. Rights groups have called for a full and transparent investigation.

Although the crowds at Brahmi's funeral - on an unusually hot day when most people were observing the Ramadan fast - were smaller than those at Belaid's, there were other demonstrations across the capital.

Outside the National Constituent Assembly building in the Bardo area, about 1,000 people gathered to call for the dissolution of the government, local media reported.

The group was broken up mid-afternoon when police moved in with tear gas, after a small pro-government demonstration had also rallied and had begun chanting.

Late on Friday night, a group of mainly secular members of the interim government announced their resignation from the assembly. They said that 42 people were resigning - although fewer than that attended the press conference - and that they called for a "government of national salvation" to be formed, headed by an "independent, national figure", according to state media.

They also called for a sit-in outside the assembly building until it was dissolved.

They were followed by a further 10 members, who resigned yesterday.

The 217-member assembly has been criticised for failing to draw up a constitution and hold elections within a year of its election in September 2011, but has recently inched toward completing its task.

The government has linked the deaths of both Brahmi and Belaid with extremist Islamists who, it says, have links with Al Qaeda. Since the fall in 2011 of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, under whom Islamism of all stripes was repressed, there has been a surge in militant Islamist activity.

The leading Salafist group, Ansar Al Sharia, which is frequently and approvingly cited by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has thus far restricted its violent activities to countries including Mali and Syria. The groups yesterday denied involvement in the death of Brahmi.

But officials have long expressed concerns that the group could decide to conduct such activities in Tunisia as well. The detonation of a small bomb underneath a car early yesterday morning in the La Goulette area of the capital is likely to stoke such fears.

No one was hurt, and local media showed that even the car was largely undamaged, but the event was unusual in Tunis and concern was widespread.

In impoverished industrial towns, including Brahmi's hometown of Sidi Bouzid and in Gafsa, local media reported large demonstrations and attacks on Ennahda offices.

At least one person, Mohamed Ben Mofti Ben Ahmed, 50, was killed in Gafsa late on Friday, after being hit in the head with a tear gas canister.