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Tunisia marks year since opposition leader's murder

06 February 2014, 10:32

Tunis - Tunisians mark on Thursday 12 turbulent months since the assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid, and his family still want to know what happened despite the alleged assassin being shot dead this week.

The charismatic leftist and virulent critic of the Islamist party Ennahda, then in power, was gunned down outside his Tunis home on 6 February 2013.

The assassination was the first of two by suspected jihadists, and came amid the Islamist violence rocking the country - and the region - since the 2011 revolution that toppled a decades-old dictatorship and touched off the Arab Spring.

It triggered massive anti-government protests and a political crisis from which Tunisia has only recently started to emerge, with the adoption of a consensus constitution last month.

The authorities blamed the killing on members of Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist group suspected of links to Al-Qaeda that has since been designated a terrorist organisation but says it rejects violence.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou announced that Kamel Gadhgadhi, Belaid's alleged assassin, was among seven suspects killed during a 20-hour seige of a house in the Raoued district of the capital.

"[It's] the best present that we could give Tunisians" on the first anniversary of Belaid's murder, said Ben Jeddou.

But the family of the slain politician, which blamed the death on the Ennahda party, spurned the minister's comments.

"He can keep this present; killing a man is not a present," Belaid's brother, Abdelmajid, told AFP.

"We didn't want Gadhgadhi to be killed and we are certainly not celebrating his death... We wanted him to be fairly tried," he said.

"We want to know the whole truth. Gadhgadhi was not alone. There are other parties implicated and we hope they will be captured so that the truth is revealed."

'Unfinished business'

Some newspapers called the militant's death a turning point in the fight against armed jihadists. Others, including popular French daily La Presse, were less confident.

"The glass is half empty and there is... unfinished business," it said.

A group of lawyers will hold a press conference on Thursday morning on the state of the investigation into Belaid's murder, with a candlelit vigil to take place later on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis.

And a demonstration is planned at Belaid's grave Saturday before a march into the city centre, to mark the anniversary of the politician's funeral procession, which tens of thousands attended in what became a mass anti-Ennahda rally.

Belaid's murder was followed by an intensification of violence between security forces and jihadist groups.

Some 20 soldiers and police were killed last year, mainly in the Chaambi mountain region along the border with Algeria, and two suicide bombers targeted tourist resorts on the coast.

The political crisis, which deepened following the July 25 murder of another opposition politician, MP Mohamed Brahmi, threatened to derail Tunisia's transition, amid rising social unrest, economic malaise and administrative deadlock.

But last month, following a hard-fought agreement between Ennahda and the opposition, the national assembly approved a new constitution, Ennahda stepped down and a technocratic government was sworn in tasked with leading the country to fresh elections.

Some commentators have said it took the two assassinations and the military coup in Egypt that ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi to persuade Ennahda, which had won Tunisia's first free election in October 2011, to cede power.

On Friday a ceremony is planned to celebrate the adoption of the new constitution, with French President Francois Hollande and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy among those due to attend.



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