By: Emily Crane and Luiz Sanchez
Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, was assassinated Wednesday morning on his way to work, sparking outrage and mass protests across the country. In response to this incident, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki left Cairo where he was attending the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit to deal with the crisis.
Belaid was the leader of the Democratic Patriots party.
Chokri Baccouche, the editor in chief of Sunrise newspaper, a Tunisian periodical, told the Daily News Egypt that four shots were fired at Belaid, one of which hit his head, and the other his neck. He said there were believed to be two men involved in the attack; the gunmen and a getaway driver. The driver is said to have stood by his motorcycle and the two fled immediately after firing.
AFP meanwhile cited the Tunisian prime minister and member of the ruling Ennahda party Hamadi Jebali saying the gunmen fired three shots and ran away, making no mention of a accomplice.
“The ambulance arrived right away,” Baccouche said, “but his wounds were too severe and he died within 20 minutes to half an hour.”
Belaid’s death sparked angry protests across the country, including attacks on the Ennahda party’s headquarters by opposition groups, AFP reported.
AFP also reported that a crowd of at least 1,000 people appeared earlier on Wednesday in front of the interior ministry to denounce Belaid’s murder. The crowd reportedly chanted slogans against the ruling party, and sang the national anthem.
In response security forces were deployed to control the demonstrations, leading to tear gas canisters being used against them. Baccouche said at the time of writing that security forces had managed to disperse protesters in Tunis’ city centre, returning the downtown district to calm.
“We do not know who was responsible for this assassination,” Baccouche said. “We need to be really wise and wait before making any hypotheses about who it could be. I will say this though: Beleid was known for his outspoken criticisms of the Islamist government.”
Tunisian Minister of Interior Ali Laarayedh announced he will be conducting a full investigation into the matter immediately.
“His death produced a huge emotional shock here,” Baccouche said. “There have been a lot of marches and protests all day. It is a very delicate situation and everyone needs to tread very carefully so as not to find ourselves in an all-out civil war,” he warned.
Baccouche said that there has been a strong call for an end to the political violence in Tunisia, “but these cries have fallen on deaf ears”.
“The government has a responsibility to do something about this immediately,” Baccouche added, concluding it “is in the minister of the interior’s best interest to solve this matter quickly”.