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Tunisia marks year since opposition leader's murder

  • A portrait of assassinated Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid is seen during a candlelight vigil outside of his house in Tunis, on February 5, 2014, on the eve of the anniversary of his death. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID

TUNIS: Tunisians on Thursday marked 12 turbulent months since the assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid, with his family still demanding 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 February 6, 2013.

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

Belaid's death triggered massive anti-government protests and a political crisis from which Tunisia has only now started to emerge, with the adoption of a consensus constitution in January.

Some 200 people gathered Thursday at the site where he was slain to commemorate the anniversary.

A large poster asked the question that troubles many Tunisians despite an announcement this week that Kamel Gadhgadhi, his alleged assassin, had died in a police shootout.

"Who killed Chokri Belaid?"

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

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said Gadhgadhi was among seven suspects killed during the 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 anniversary of Belaid's murder, said Ben Jeddou.

But the family of the murdered politician, who at the time blamed his death on the Ennahda party, spurned the Islamist minister's comments.

"The truth has not been revealed," Belaid's widow Basma Khalfaoui told AFP at Thursday's commemoration.

While Gadhgadhi may have pulled the trigger, "there are other suspects. I hope they won't be killed too," she said.

Belaid's brother, Abdelmajid, had earlier made similar comments.

"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."

Some newspapers called the militant's death a turning point in the fight against armed jihadists but 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 were to hold a press conference Thursday 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 had been attended by tens of thousands and morphed into 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.

"We've managed to partly resolve the political crisis. Let's hope we will do better, but (this time) without blood," said Basma Khalfaoui.

On Friday a ceremony is planned in Tunis 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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Summary

Tunisians on Thursday marked 12 turbulent months since the assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid, with his family still demanding to know what happened despite the alleged assassin being shot dead this week.

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

Belaid's death triggered massive anti-government protests and a political crisis from which Tunisia has only now started to emerge, with the adoption of a consensus constitution in January.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said Gadhgadhi was among seven suspects killed during the 20-hour seige of a house in the Raoued district of the capital.

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.


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