TUNIS, Tunisia — The assassination of a second opposition politician in six months has escalated the pressure on Tunisia’s troubled Islamist-led coalition government, which came to power in the wake of the Arab Spring but is struggling to right the economy and rein in extremists.
With the country brought to a virtual standstill by a general strike and the revelation that the same gun was apparently used by an al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremist cell in the two assassinations, calls grew Friday for the 18-month-old transitional government to stand down.
Six opposition parties holding 42 seats announced their withdrawal from the 217-seat national assembly and said that the government — a coalition between the Islamist Ennahda Party and two secular parties that was elected after the overthrow of the country’s longtime dictator — should be replaced by a temporary national unity government.
“The assassination of Mohammed Brahmi is a failure of the government and a failure of its security policy,” political analyst Alaya Allani said. “I think most of the political elite feel it is urgent after the assassination to dissolve the current government and replace it with a nonpartisan, competent one.”
The government’s failure was driven home, Allani said, when the interior minister, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, revealed in a news conference that not only was the same radical Islamist group behind the two assassinations but that the same gun — a 9mm semi-automatic pistol — was used.
Brahmi’s assailant was Boubakr Hakim, a 30-year-old weapons smuggler with Islamist sympathies who was also part of the al-Qaeda-linked cell that assassinated Chokri Belaid in February, Ben Jeddou said.
The opposition has accused Ennahda of being overly tolerant of a rising radical Islamist movement in the country that has shown violent tendencies in its efforts to promote piety in the heavily secular country.
After Belaid’s killing, anti-
government protests erupted and then-Premier Hamadi Jebali suggested the formation of a government of technocrats. His own party rejected his offer, and Jebali resigned. After the latest assassination, Ennahda has again insisted on remaining in power until new elections are held.
The opposition and main labor union have shown little interest in dialogue. Among Friday’s disruptions, flights and public transportation were canceled. And several groups and political parties announced that protests would be held until the government resigns.
The number of people protesting in Tunis was modest, given the summer heat and the holy fasting month of Ramadan. However, Brahmi’s funeral on Saturday is expected to attract thousands.