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Tunisia 'at a crossroads'

Prominent Tunisian opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated on Wednesday, driving many to the streets. Officials fear the assassination may destabilize Tunisia's recent progress toward democracy. 

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"This assassination is the gravest incident yet in a climate of mounting violence," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Since Tunisia's revolution, there have been violent assaults against journalists, political activists, artists, and simple citizens, many of which the authorities did not investigate, let alone prosecute."

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Several opposition parties suspended their participation in the constitutional assembly over the assassination and are now calling for a general strike, which could further inflame tensions. By Wednesday evening, however, they had yet to react to Jebali's announcement of a caretaker government.

Nejib Chebbi of the centrist Jomhouri Party warned prior to Jebali's announcement that other political figures could be targeted for assassination, and he called for the dissolution of the Leagues to Protect the Revolution.

The night before his death, Belaid had called for the dissolution of those leagues as well.

"There are groups inside Ennahda inciting violence," Belaid told the Nessma TV channel. He alleged that Ennahda leader "Rachid Ghannouchi considers the leagues to be the conscience of the nation, so the defense of the authors of violence is clear. All those who oppose Ennahda become the targets of violence."

Ennahda, however, has denied supporting any violence and promised an investigation into the assassination. Ghannouchi called Belaid's killing an "ignoble crime" and offered his condolences to his family.

As international condemnation of the assassination swiftly poured in, several countries expressed worry over the violence in Tunisia.

"There is no justification for an outrageous and cowardly act of violence like this," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "There's no place in the new Tunisia for violence. We urge the government of Tunisia to conduct a fair, transparent and professional investigation to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, consistent with Tunisian and international law."

French President Francois Hollande also expressed worry. "This murder deprives Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices," he said in a statement.

Schemm reported from Rabat. Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Strasbourg, Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

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