Tunis: Amidst the chaos after the assassination of a key opposition leader, Tunisian PM on Wednesday sacked his cabinet and announced the formation of a new government comprising of "competent nationals without political affiliation" to lead the country till elections.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali made the announcement in a televised address at the end of the day that saw clashes and protests over the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a prominent leftist and anti-Islamist politician.
PM Jebali said that a new government of technocrats "would not belong to any party and its task would be limited to organizing elections as soon as possible with a neutral administration."
The new ministers would have a mandate "limited to managing the affairs of the country until elections are held in the shortest possible time," he added.
Condemning the assassination of Chokri Belaid, e said, "Belaid was killed, but the real target behind the assassination is the Tunisian revolution as a whole. He represented the true values of dialogue, respecting and embracing others in rejecting violence. This is a political assassination."
The killing of 48-year-old Chokri Belaid, a fierce critic of Ennahda, the moderate ruling Islamist party, marked an escalation in the country`s political violence and sparked allegations of government negligence.
Many also blame the ruling party for Wednesday`s assassination of leftist leader Chokri Belaid.
Belaid, a lawyer, was shot four times point blank as he left his house in Tunis on Wednesday morning. He was taken to a nearby clinic where he died. His wife told French Radio RTL he was shot twice in the head, once in the neck and once in the heart.
"He died for the country. He died for democracy," Basma Belaid said. "He was threatened all the time," she added, holding Ennahda directly responsible for his death.
Belaid`s funeral is scheduled for Friday and the family has said members of the ruling coalition will not be welcome.
As word of the assassination spread, demonstrators converged on the Interior Ministry in the center of the capital chanting anti-government slogans.
The scenes were reminiscent of the final days of Ben Ali as protesters surged down the tree-lined Bourguiba Avenue shouting "the people want the fall of the regime" and were met with volleys of tear gas and riot police.
At one point, the ambulance containing Belaid`s body, surrounded by angry mourners, headed toward the ministry before it was driven off by tear gas.
By late afternoon, the center of the city was largely deserted and littered with stones, guarded by police armored vehicles and patrolled by a tank from the national guard. Knots of riot police chased protesters through the elegant downtown streets.
At least one policeman died in the clashes, the Interior Ministry said.
Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, kicking off a wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa that have met with varying degrees of success.
With Agency Inputs