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Update: Tunisia to Dissolve Government After Assassination, Day of Mass Protests

Prime Minister: 'By killing him they wanted to silence his voice'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Protesters gather after Tunisian opposition leader critical of the government was gunned down Wednesday Feb 6, 2013 (AP / Hassense Dridi)Update:

After a day of massive protests in Tunisia, ruling Islamist party Ennahda dissolved its coalition government on Wednesday, promising rapid new elections.

The day saw the biggest street protests since the country's revolution two years ago.

The protests were sparked after a well known political opposition leader, Shokri Belaid, was shot dead outside of his home Wednesday morning.

Protesters took to the streets in cities across the country throughout the day, as police and protesters clashed amongst clouds of teargas.

Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali of the Ennahda party spoke on television in the evening declaring that weeks of talks among the various political parties, aimed at reshaping the coalition government, had failed. Jabali said they will now replace his entire cabinet with "non-partisan technocrats" until elections could be held, Reuters reports.

Belaid, 48, was shot at close range as he left for work by a gunmen who fled on the back of a motorcycle.

The day before his death Belaid publicly lambasted Ennahda and the party's allies for a "climate of systematic violence" in the country.

Al Jazeera has more:

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Earlier:

Assassination of Top Tunisian Opposition Leader Spurs Uprising of Thousands

Tunisian opposition leader Shokri Belaid was shot dead in what many are calling a politically-motivated killing Wednesday morning outside of his home. In response, tens of thousands of outraged Tunisians are marching on the Interior Ministry, announcing to the government 'enough is enough.'Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid (center) had been a vocal critic of the Islamic-lead government. (Photo: Demotix/Corbis)

Although the reason for the killing is unclear, it comes as Tunisia continues to struggle with "social and religious tensions" since the 2011 self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi which catapulted the country into nation-wide revolution, ousting its longtime dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and triggering similar revolts across the Arab world.

Belaid was a well-known leader of the left-leaning opposition Unified Democratic Nationalist party and, as a lawyer and human rights activist, had been a vocal critic of Tunisia's leadership—especially the dominant Islamic party, Annahda. Al Jazeera reports, "[Belaid] had accused authorities of not doing enough to stop violence by ultraconservatives who have targeted mausoleums, art exhibits and other things seen as out of keeping with their strict interpretation of Islam."

Last month, secular President Moncef Marzouki warned the tension between secularists and Islamists might lead to "civil war."

Outside of the ministry, security forces have begun firing warning shots to stave off the growing demonstration as thousands of protestors are chanting for the fall of the Annahda-led government, shouting "Shame, shame Shokri died", "Where is the government?", and "The government should fall," Al Jazeera reports.

The headquarters of the Annahda party was set ablaze, Reuters reports, adding that "thousands more demonstrated in cities including Mahdia, Sousse, Monastir and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the revolution, where police fired teargas and warning shots."

Following the Tunisian revolution of 2011 ousted a longtime dictator, spurring similar uprisings across the Arab world, the Islamic-dominated Annahda party won 42 percent of seats in the first elections and formed a government in coalition with two secular parties, including President Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

According to reports, Belaid was an outspoken critic of the coalition government. His small party co-founded the Popular Front, a leftist alliance preparing to compete in the elections this year.

The Guardian writes that Belaid's murder "comes amid reports of intimidation and violence against opposition groups, and days before an official commission of inquiry is due to report its findings on an attack against a trades union rally in December."

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Tunisian security forces fire tear gas and beat protesters this afternoon along Tunis' Habib Bourguiba avenue.

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