TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Angry anti-government demonstrations broke out Thursday across Tunisia after gunmen killed the leader of a leftist opposition party, raising fears of new chaos on the difficult road to democracy in the cradle of the Arab Spring.
Just five months after a similar assassination plunged the country into crisis, two gunmen shot Mohammed Brahmi, leader of the Popular Current party, in his car outside his home.
Tunisia is struggling after overthrowing dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Many Tunisians are fed up with the government led by the moderate Islamist ruling party, Ennahda, which appears unable to handle a faltering economy, address popular unrest over unmet expectations and crack down on a rising extremist Islamist movement.
Protesters immediately blamed the latest killing on the government. Soon after news broke, crowds gathered outside the Interior Ministry in the heart of Tunis calling for its downfall.
There were also demonstrations around the country, including in Sidi Bouzid, Brahmi's impoverished home town and the birthplace of the country's revolution. Crowds in the nearby town of Meknassi burned down the local headquarters of Ennahda, which rules in a coalition with two secular parties.
The Popular Front coalition of leftist parties that included Brahmi's called for "civil disobedience in all locations of the country until the fall of the governing coalition."
The country's largest trade unions called for a general strike Friday that will shutter the government, public transportation and most shops freeing people up for what are expected to be large anti-government protests.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for Brahmi's killing. The two attackers sped off on a moped, according to a neighbor cited by the state news agency. Local media reported Brahmi was shot 11 times and his daughter witnessed his killing.
The killing immediately brought to mind the assassination of Chokri Belaid, also a member of the Popular Front coalition, who was killed in his car outside his home in February.
Many members of Belaid's party hold the government responsible for his assassination, believing it either turned a blind eye to Islamist extremists or actively used them to target their opponents. The government has blamed Belaid's assassination on Islamist militants and said that six suspects are still on the run and their names will soon be revealed.
Belaid's death prompted nationwide demonstrations and the resignation of the prime minister. The latest killing is threatening to plunge Tunisia back into the same kind of crisis.
"This day signifies the death of the democratic process in Tunisia," Nejib Chebbi of the liberal opposition Jomhouri (Republican) Party told local radio. "The government must leave."