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Tunisia braces for strikes, protests after killing

Associated Press
Protesters gather on the main avenue of Tunis after the leader of a leftist Tunisian opposition party, Mohammed Brahmi, was gunned down as he left home, in Tunisia, Thursday, July 25, 2013. Brahmi, 58, of an Arab nationalist political party was in his car outside home when gunmen fired several shots at him, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui. It is the second killing of an opposition member this year, following that of Chokri Belaid, a member of the same leftist Popular Front coalition as Brahmi. Belaid was also shot dead in his car outside his home in February. His killing provoked a political crisis that nearly derailed Tunisia's political transition. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)
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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia braced for renewed protests and calls for the government to resign on Friday following the assassination of a second leftist politician this year in a fusillade of bullets.

Thousands demonstrated around the country Thursday night, holding the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party responsible for the assassination and attacking local party headquarters. Police used tear gas in central Tunis and in the provinces to disperse the protests.

The slaying of Mohammed Brahmi of the leftist Popular Current party raised fears of new chaos in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring. Tunisia is working toward enshrining a new constitution meant to lead the way to lasting democracy and so far has avoided the widespread violence and unrest in countries like Egypt and Libya.

Brahmi was a respected leftist politician and a strong critic of the Ennahda Party, which rules in a coalition with two other secular parties. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for his killing.

His party told The Associated Press it is postponing his funeral, initially planned for Friday, fearing it could inflame supporters on an already tense day.

The main trade union called for a general strike Friday, closing down the airport, public transportation and most government offices as a new coalition of civil society and opposition parties called for the dissolution of the government and the national assembly.

In a statement published by Mosaique FM, several left wing and liberal parties announced the formation of a National Salvation Front calling for civil disobedience and a sit-in outside the national assembly until it and the government are dissolved.

There have also been reports of resignations by some members of the assembly, which was elected in October 2011 and charged with writing a new constitution and running the country. The constitution was expected to be completed and new elections held by the end of the year.

The new opposition front is calling for the formation of a national unity government charged with finishing the constitution and holding new elections.

The State Prosecutor said Brahmi was shot 14 times. One or two gunmen, riding on a moped, opened fire with a 9mm weapon as Brahmi got into his car in full view of his family. It was unclear whether both men fired.

His assassination is similar to that of Chokri Belaid, a member of the same Popular Front coalition, who was shot dead outside his home in February, plunging the country into a political crisis and provoking the resignation of the prime minister.

In a statement late Thursday, Ennahda condemned the assassination as a "cowardly" act "targeting the revolution and national unity, and obstructing the democratic transition process."

Much of the opposition, however, is holding Ennahda responsible for Brahmi's assassination, much as it did Belaid's, either because the Islamists have been unable to ensure security in the country or because they are actively collaborating with extremist elements to target their opponents.

The Interior Ministry has accused Islamist extremists of being behind the attack on Belaid and said it would announce the names of suspects shortly.

The U.S. State Department, the United Nations and Amnesty International called for an impartial investigation into the killings and for Tunisians to avoid reacting with violence.

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Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.

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