TUNIS, Tunisia — Thousands joined a funeral march through Tunisia’s capital today with the body of assassinated opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi, chanting slogans in a display of the anger threatening the survival of a government once seen as a model for democracy in the region.
Adding to the tension in the North African country, a bomb exploded in the early morning underneath a car at the port in Tunis. Though there were no injuries, the rare attack helped deepen the sense of unease in Tunisia, where two opposition politicians have been gunned down in the last six months, apparently by the same weapon.
The latest assassination Thursday exacerbated the distrust between the ruling coalition led by moderate Islamists and the opposition, which has demanded the dissolution of the government because of its failures to rein in Islamist extremists, improve the economy and manage the transition to democracy.
“Down with the party of the Brotherhood,” chanted mourners following the body of Brahmi, referring to the ruling Ennahda Party’s affiliation with the regional Muslim Brotherhood religious group. “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Brahmi’s body was taken in a military vehicle draped with a massive Tunisian flag through the city under a blazing summer sun to the Jellaz cemetery, where fellow assassinated politician Chokri Belaid was laid to rest in February.
The Interior Ministry, citing physical evidence and witnesses, said Friday that Brahmi’s assassin was Boubakr Hakim, a known militant and weapons smuggler who was part of the same al-Qaida linked cell that murdered Belaid back in February.
Hakim allegedly shot Brahmi 14 times outside his home Thursday in full view of his family with the same 9mm semi-automatic handgun used to kill Belaid, before he sped away on the back of a moped.
The assassination has rocked the country and provoked anti-government demonstrations around the country by protesters holding the moderate Islamists elected in 2011 responsible for the lack of security in the country.
A 48-year-old political activist with the same leftist coalition as the assassinated Brahmi died Friday night after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister during a demonstration outside a police station in the southern mining town of Gafsa, said Abdessattar Ben Moussa, president of the League for Human Rights.
Protesters also clashed with police in the interior cities of Al-Kef and Sidi Bouzid.
The morning bomb blast caused no injuries and only blew out windows in the area but it represents a dangerous escalation for a country that has yet to experience serious terrorist incidents like its neighbors Algeria and Libya.
“As we were leaving the station for a routine patrol, we saw a suspicious package under the car,” said police officer Mourad Mliki told The Associated Press. “We went back to the station to tell our superiors and there was a huge explosion — it was set off remotely.”
Mohammed Ali Aroui, the police spokesman told the state news agency that the remains of the explosive device were being examined by a special team.
“The explosion was so strong it was like an earthquake,” said Walid Khammar, a fish seller living near the police station whose car was damaged by the blast.
Tunisians overthrew their dictator in January 2011, inspiring the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring across the region. The long-repressed moderate Islamist Ennahda dominated subsequent elections and now rules in coalition with two secular parties.
With two political assassinations and a faltering economy, the opposition says the government has lost its legitimacy and is demanding a new government.
Some 42 members of opposition parties announced late Friday their withdrawal from the 217-member elected assembly charged with completing the countries new constitution.
The opposition accuses Ennahda of turning a blind eye to the rise of ultraconservative Islamist movements known as Salafis, following the revolution — especially those willing to use violence to push their views.
The government had said it did not want to replicate the repressive anti-Islamist policies of overthrown dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali but when thousands of salafis attacked the U.S. embassy in September over an anti-Islamic film produced in the U.S., the government cracked down on the movement.
In April, soldiers patrolling in a mountainous region near the Algerian tripped a roadside bomb causing severe injuries and sparking a search of the region that revealed the remains of training camps and more hidden explosives.