* Second assassination of secular politician this year
* Anti-Islamist protests erupt in Tunis, Sidi Bouzid
* Main Islamist Ennahda party condemns killing
* Brahmi's family accuses Ennahda of responsibility
(Adds Tunisair cancelling its flights on Friday in paragraph
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, July 25 Tunisian opposition politician
Mohamed Brahmi was shot dead on Thursday in the second such
assassination this year, setting off violent protests against
the Islamist-led government in the capital and elsewhere.
"This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi,"
his widow Mbarka Brahmi told Reuters, without specifying who she
thought was behind the shooting outside their home in Tunis.
Brahmi's sister later accused the main Islamist Ennahda
party of being behind the killing. "Ennahda killed my brother,"
Souhiba Brahmi said. Ennahda has condemned the murder.
The politician's wife said Brahmi had left the house after
receiving a telephone call. She heard shots and found his body
lying on the ground outside as two men fled on a motorcycle.
Brahmi belonged to the secular, Arab nationalist Popular
Front party, whose then-leader, Chokri Belaid, was killed in a
similar way on Feb. 6. His death ignited the worst violence in
Tunisia since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fell in 2011.
Divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents have
deepened since the popular uprising against Ben Ali, which
unleashed unrest across the Arab world, unseating rulers in
Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and leading to a civil war in Syria.
Brahmi, 58, was a critic of the Ennahda-led ruling coalition
and a member of the Constituent Assembly that has drafted a new
constitution for the North African nation of 11 million.
The assassination drew swift international condemnation.
The U.S. State Department called for a "transparent and
professional" investigation, while French President Francois
Hollande urged Tunisians to show "the necessary spirit of
responsibility to preserve national unity and guarantee the
pursuit of the democratic transition".
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called for the killers
to be brought to account and said the government must do more to
"deter these terrible acts" and protect people at risk.
Thousands of people protested outside the Interior Ministry
in Tunis and a hospital in the Ariana district where Brahmi's
body had been taken. "Down with the rule of the Islamists," they
chanted, and demanded that the government resign.
Big crowds accompanied Brahmi's body when it was taken later
for autopsy at another Tunis hospital. Despite the presence of
hundreds of soldiers and police, protesters smashed cars and
broke some windows of the hospital in Ariana, witnesses said.
Similar demonstrations erupted in the southern town of Sidi
Bouzid, the cradle of the Tunisian revolution, where protesters
set fire to two local Ennahda party offices, witnesses said.
"Thousands have taken to the streets. People have blocked
roads and set tyres alight," said Mehdi Horchani, a resident of
Sidi Bouzid. "People are very angry."
Police fired teargas to disperse protesters who stormed a
local government office in the Mediterranean port of Sfax, 270
km (170 miles) southeast of Tunis, witnesses said.
Tunisia's biggest labour organisation, UGTT, called for a
general strike on Friday in protest at Brahmi's killing. Its
secretary-general, Hussein Abbasi, earlier predicted that the
assassination would lead the country into a "bloodbath".
National airline Tunisair said it had cancelled all its
flights to and from Tunisia on Friday in response to the strike
call. An airport spokesman said a decision would be taken soon
whether to suspend all flights to the country, which is trying
to renew its popularity with holidaymakers.
Tunisia's political transition since the revolt that toppled
Ben Ali has been relatively peaceful, with the moderate Islamist
Ennahda party sharing power with smaller secular parties.
But the government has struggled to revive a stuttering
economy and has come under fire from secularists who accuse it
of failing to curb the activities of radical Salafi Islamists.
The government blamed Belaid's assassination, also carried
out by assailants on a motorcycle, on an unidentified group of
Salafi militants, saying six of them were still on the run.
The Egyptian army's overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed
Mursi on July 3 following mass protests against him has further
energised the anti-Islamist opposition in Tunisia.
"INTO THE UNKNOWN"
A protest movement known as Tamarod, modelled on the
Egyptian group of the same name that orchestrated the anti-Mursi
demonstrations, has called for rallies to topple the government.
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh condemned the assassination, but
said: "We are against all the calls to dissolve the government
and the Constituent Assembly to create a (power) vacuum."
He also drew a link to the upheaval in Egypt, saying in a
televised address that the assassins had aimed to use events
there "to try to undermine our process and derail it, and take
the country into the unknown, whether it is chaos, fighting or
civil war or a return to despotism or a return to square one".
Rached Ghannouchi, the Ennahda party leader, said the attack
on Brahmi was aimed at "halting Tunisia's democratic process and
killing the only successful model in the region, especially
after the violence in Egypt, Syria and Libya".
"Tunisia will not follow the Egyptian scenario," he told
Reuters. "We will hold on."
After the killing of Brahmi, who had applauded the Egyptian
army's removal of Mursi, the leader of his Popular Front called
for non-violent action to oust the Tunisian government.
The assassination occurred on Tunisia's Republic Day as the
country prepares to vote in the next few weeks on the new
constitution before a presidential election later in the year.
The turmoil dealt another blow to efforts to resuscitate
Tunisia's vital tourism industry. Cultural shows, including the
Carthage Festival, were suspended following Brahmi's killing.
Secular President Moncef Marzouki appealed for calm and
dialogue, but Tunisia looks set for further instability.
Despite recent progress on the constitution, Brahmi's
killing is likely to reactivate the mass protests and strikes
across multiple sectors that followed Belaid's assassination,
wrote Anna Boyd, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Country Risk.
Samir Gadio, at Standard Bank, said he expected political
and economic conditions to deteriorate further in the next few
months, saying Ennahda was losing popularity and might seek to
delay adoption of the constitution and the holding of elections.
"While Tunisia's army is not influential in the political
process, unlike in Egypt, the risks of an institutional
dislocation or even a military intervention are increasing," he
(Additional reporting by Fatma Matoussi; Writing by Alistair
Lyon; Editing by Alison Williams)