Tunisian opposition leader assassinated

London, Feb 6 (IANS) A senior opposition leader in Tunisia was assassinated Wednesday in the capital Tunis, media reports said.

Chokri Belaid, secretary general of the leftist Democratic Patriots Party, was shot in his head and neck on his way to work and died on the spot, Xinhua reported.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

This is the first major incident in the country since then President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011.

BBC said Belaid was shot outside his home.

He was a prominent secular opponent of the moderate Islamist-led government. His assassination sparked protests in many places in the country.

President Moncef Marzouki cut short a visit to France and cancelled a scheduled appearance at a summit in Egypt to return home.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said the assassination was an "act of terrorism" and a blow to the country's Arab Spring revolution, which took place in January 2011.

"This is a criminal act, an act of terrorism not only against Belaid but against the whole of Tunisia," Jebali told Tunisia's privately owned FM Radio Mosaique.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Tunis near the headquarters of the interior ministry to protest the killing, and chanted slogans against the government.

"This murder robs Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices," BBC quoted French President Francois Hollande as saying in a statement.

Recently, Belaid had accused "mercenaries" hired by the Ennahda party of carrying out an attack on a Democratic Patriots meeting.

The Paris-based France 24 TV station said Belaid reportedly received death threats.