TUNIS: Opposition leader and former premier Beji Caid Essebsi on Friday branded the death of a senior party official during violence in southern Tunisia the "first political assassination since the revolution."
"It is the first political assassination since the revolution and it affects our party, the Call of Tunisia," the staunch opponent of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda said in a statement to radio Mosaique FM, referring to the death of Lotfi Naguedh.
Essebsi blamed Thursday's protest in the southern town of Tataouine that degenerated into violence on Ennahda and its ally in the ruling coalition, the Congress for the Republic party of President Moncef Marzouki.
At a press conference later, Essebsi referred to a "lynching," and played a video purporting to show the local party coordinator Naguedh being dragged along the ground and beaten by the crowd.
Naguedh's body was taken to Tunis on Friday for an autopsy, he said.
The interior ministry said Naguedh had died of a heart attack, but party officials say he died after being beaten by protesters from the League for the Protection of the Revolution, a grouping close to Ennahda, who attacked his office.
A doctor at the hospital in Tataouine, when contacted by public radio, declined to give his verdict on the cause of Naguedh's death.
"When he arrived, he was already in a coma, or a pre-coma," the doctor told Radio Tataouine, adding that "he was near death and we didn't have time to carry out an in-depth examination or to see if there were external wounds."
The Ennahda party, in a statement on Thursday, accused supporters of the opposition grouping of provoking the violence and throwing petrol bombs at protesters, while offering its condolences to the family of the deceased.
The Islamists called for a judicial inquiry into the causes and circumstances of the violence and of Naguedh's death.
The Call of Tunisia was founded in June by Essebsi, a senior official in the first years of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's rule, who served as interim premier in the aftermath of the veteran strongman's ouster in January 2011.
The ruling coalition accuses him of regrouping former regime officials and seeking to undermine the government.