Tunis (AsiaNews) - "Chokri Belaid's death represents a turning point for Tunisia. People are under shock. This murder has not touched only one person, but an entire democratic nation that wants to live in peace and not in a climate of political and social violence," said Fr Jamad Alamat, head of the Pontifical Mission Works in Tunisia. "As Christians, our prayers go to all Tunisians. At this time, we are close to them," he told AsiaNews. "We also pray for social peace, an end to the violence and for the authorities that are called to cope with this dramatic situation."
Chokri Belaid, head of the Unified Democratic Nationalist (UDN) Party, was gunned down yesterday morning in front of his home in central Tunis. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but many media organisations have pointed the finger at the Salafists.
In recent months, radical Muslims had threatened to kill him and other members of the secular opposition because of their attempt to contain Islamists since the Muslim Brotherhood took power.
"The authorities tolerated extremists for far too long," Fr Alamat said. "Like other opposition leaders, Belaid had spoken out against the death threats, but the government and the police have done nothing to stop the violence."
"The UDN leader was a free man who represented thousands of people," the priest said. "He demanded freedom, pluralism, democracy and the separation of state and religion. With his sacrifice, the country has plunged back into a climate of fear and sorrow. His death comes two years after the Jasmine Revolution, which began when Mohamed Buazizi set himself on fire."
"Two years after that tragic event, people have spontaneously filled the streets and squares of Tunisia's main cities. All groups joined the protest demanding respect for freedom and the separation of state and religion, which Islamists have trampled on."
For the clergyman, only by protecting such values can the country start again at a time when it is going through one of the worst economic crises in its history.
"Since 2011, tourism has collapsed. Foreign countries are afraid of investing because the government is not providing guarantees. This has pushed up unemployment and prices," Fr Alamat explained.
In the capital, hundreds of thousands of Tunisians have crowded the streets, shouting slogans against Ennahda, the ruling party. In the city's Bourguiba Avenue, violent demonstrations left one policeman dead. In Beja, 105 km west of Tunis, people hunted down members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In other cities, residents attacked and torched the party's local headquarters.
Late yesterday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali announced he would dissolve the government and form a new one made of technocrats, but his decision was rebuffed by Ennahda leaders.
"Until now, the government has never taken into consideration suggestions coming from the opposition. With this murder, it has begun to consider some changes, but it is too late," Fr Alamat noted.