Opposition party leader in Tunisia, Chokri Belaïd, was shot dead Wednesday morning in Tunis by unidentified gunmen, the official Tunisian News Agency (TAP) confirmed the murder, quoting security and medical sources.
According to radio Shems FM, which was first to break the news, Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, currenttly in Strasbourg, France, has decided to cancel his visit to Cairo, Egypt, for the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and rush back to Tunisia to monitor the new developments.
In a communiqué, the Tunisian President’s Office said 'it is extremely shocked by this assassination which raises fears about the country’s future.'
Belaîd, a lawyer aged 64, was the chairman of the Unified Nationalist Democrats Party (PDNU), an opposition party member of the popular front which brings together several 'leftist' parties.
An active supporter of the revolution which caused the collapse of the dictatorial regime of former president Ben Ali, Belaid was known to be a staunch defender of freedom and a democratic state.
During his life time, Belaid condemned violence and openly accused the interior ministry and the ruling Ennahda Islamic movement of protecting Tunisian revolutionists whom, he alleged, were perpetrating violence in the country.
He called for the dissolution of the umbrella union of Tunisian revolutionists.
Over the past few days, he had called for the holding of a national congress against violence.
Shortly after his death was announced, several thousands of people assembled in front of the interior ministry to denounce what they described as a political assassination.
The demonstrators chanted slogans, saying 'We want the collapse of thir government.'
A large number of lawyers also staged a demonstration in front of the government Palace at Kasbah, before moving towards the interior ministry.
in Gafsa, the mining basin in Southwest Tunisia, a demonstration also took place with the participation of political supporters and lawyers, Shems FM reported.
A huge demonstration also took place in Sousse (centre) where the police had to use tear gas and rubber bullets to control the crowd.
The radio also reported the looting of the premises of the ruling Ennadha movement in the hinterland.