Chokri Belaid was a vocal opponent of extremists who pushed for Islamic law in Tunisia. The moderate Islamist government, however, said his assassination was an attack on the "revolution as a whole."
The birthplace of the Arab Spring is seized with mass protests today: Tunisians took to the streets to denounce the assassination of Chokri Belaid, the country's leading opposition figure.
As the BBC reports, Belaid was the secular opponent of the moderate Islamist government and he "was shot in the neck and head on his way to work" Wednesday morning.
"The killing of Belaid, 48, has shocked the nation. Police had fired on protesters, killing some of them, during the Arab Spring uprising, which originated in Tunisia in December 2010. But the targeted slaying of a politician crossed a new line.
"Video showed outraged protesters filling the Avenue Habib Bourguiba for the opposition leader's funeral procession and pouring into the streets of other Tunisian cities. Some of them revived the iconic slogan of their revolution, crying: 'The people want to topple the regime.'"
Al Jazeera reports that Belaid had been critical of ultraconservatives who have attacked mausoleums and art exhibits they believe are against Islamic law. The government denounced the killing.
"Belaid was killed, but the real target behind the assassination is the Tunisian revolution as a whole," Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali during a televised address. "He represented the true values of dialogue, respecting and embracing others in rejecting violence. This is a political assassination."
Al Jazeera reports that on the street, demonstrators accused their government of being impotent. Al Jazeera adds:
"Omar bin Ali, a member of the Tunisian Trade Unions, was present at the demonstration site and said 'the Islamists were responsible for Belaid's death.'
"'This is what they have been calling for in mosques,' Bin Ali told Al Jazeera's Ahmed Janabi outside of the ministry.
"Ruling out the possibility of external factors, Bin Ali said 'Tunisia is a friend of all nations. It is hard to think of anyone from abroad to do this to us,' adding that 'the people want the whole government out as they proved to be useless.'"
Update at 2:23 p.m. ET. Prime Minister Dissolving Government:
The Tunisian prime minister has announced that he will dissolve the parliament and form a technocrat government. Reuters reports:
"'After the failure of negotiations between parties on a cabinet reshuffle, I decided to form a small technocrat government,' Jebali said in a speech to the nation.
"He said the ministers would not run for office but elections would subsequently be held as soon as possible."