Tunisian Opposition Party Head Assassinated

The head of Tunisia’s opposition Democratic Patriots party was assassinated today, sending thousands into the streets in protest after a killing that presents the ruling coalition with one of its biggest political tests since assuming power.

Chukri Beleid was pronounced dead at a local hospital after the early morning attack outside his home, Ziad Lakhdar, a senior party official, said by phone. He was shot once in the neck and once in the head, Lakhdar said. So far there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, the first targeted assassination in Tunisia since the uprising that toppled former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011.

“Those who killed Beleid wanted to silence his voice and kill the hopes of Tunisians,” Prime Minister Hamadi Jbeli told the local Mosaique FM radio station. He urged people to avoid “falling into the trap of violence and counter-violence.”

The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party has been struggling to bridge broad economic and political rifts as it grapples with the outburst of violence by Salafis, Islamists intent on implementing a strict interpretation of Shariah law in the traditionally secular nation.

Tunisia’s benchmark Tunis SE index tumbled 3.3%, the most since the eve of Ben Ali’s departure, to 4,591.20 at 12:16 p.m. in Tunis. The decline is the worst among more than 90 indexes tracked by Bloomberg.

Tunis Protests

As news of Beleid’s death broke, protesters gathered on the central Avenue Habib Bourguiba outside the Interior Ministry, shouting “Shame, shame, Chukri died by fire.” and “where are you government? The people want to topple the government.”

Several incidents of arson, vandalism and violence have been reported in Tunisia in recent days, including the torching of the secular Nidaa Tounes opposition party headquarters in Kebili province on Feb. 3, and clashes between opposition groups and government supporters in the cities of El Kef and Kairouan on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.

Beleid was a lawyer who criticized Ennahda for not doing enough to end violence by Salafists.

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