The body of Shukri Belaid, a prominent Tunisian opposition politician, is carried into an ambulance after he was shot, in Tunis February 6, 2013. Image Credit: Reuters

Tunis: Tunisia’s main Islamist party denied any role in the shooting of leading secular opposition figure Shukri Belaid, whose death yesterday prompted attacks on the governing party’s offices and sparked widespread protests across the country.

“Ennahda is completely innocent of the assassination of Belaid ... Is it possible that the ruling party could carry out this assassination when it would [only] disrupt investment and tourism?” party president Rashid Gannouchi told Reuters in an interview.

He blamed those seeking to derail Tunisia’s democratic transition after a 2011 uprising.

“Tunisia today is in the biggest political stalemate since the revolution. We should be quiet and not fall into a spiral of violence. We need of unity more than ever,” Gannouchi said.

He accused secular opponents stirring up sentiment against the party following Belaid’s death.

“The result is burning and attacking the headquarters of our party in many areas,” Gannouchi said, without elaborating.

Witnesses told Reuters that crowds had attacked Ennahda offices in Sousse, Monastir, Mahdia and Sfax.

The victim’s wife, Bassma Belaid, told France 24 she too “directly accused” Ennahda and Gannouchi.

Popular Front spokesman Hamma Hammami demanded that the government resign and make way for an interim government that would “rescue” the country from a wave of political violence.

Another opposition coalition led by the Nida Tounes party of former prime minister Al Baji Qaed Al Sibsi said it would boycott the constituent assembly that is currently drawing up a new constitution.

Belaid had accused “Ennahda mercenaries” of carrying out an attack on a meeting of his party last weekend.

Last October, a member of Nida Tounes died after a scuffle with Ennahda supporters in the town of Tataouine. A spokeswoman for the party said a group of around 30 youths had tried to attack the party’s headquarters on Sunday night but were chased by party members who had been meeting inside. “They only got time to scrawl a few slogans,” she told DPA.

Tunisia’s President Munsif Al Marzouqi said the “odious assassination” was an attempt to disrupt the country’s democratic transition.

French President Francois Hollande condemned the killing as “depriving Tunisia of one of its bravest and freest voices” and said he was “concerned by the rise in political violence in Tunisia.”

The North African state was the first Arab country to overthrow an authoritarian leader in the Arab Spring of pro-democracy protests and the first to hold peaceful, democratic elections afterwards.

Since October 2011 the country has been run by a coalition of moderate Islamists, represented by Ennahda, and secularists, represented by Al Marzouqi’s Congress for the Republic and a third party Ettakatol.

Al Marzouqi said the attack was an attempt to drive a wedge between the secular and Islamist camps.

“It’s a threat, a letter that has been sent to us which will not be received,” Al Marzouki told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where he was on a visit.

“We reject this letter, we reject this message,” said Al Marzouqi who called off a planned visit to Egypt to return directly to Tunisia.

— With inputs from agencies