Mr Belaid had reportedly received death threats.
The Tunisian news website Tunisien Numerique is today reporting that the opposition politician Chokri Belaid has been shot dead outside his home in Tunis. His brother, Abdelmajid Belaid, said that he was shot in the neck and head on the way to work.
The Paris-based France 24 TV station has reported that Mr Belaid had reportedly received recent death threats. It said that he died in hospital after being shot by “three men in a black vehicle” who fired two bullets into his chest and neck.
Belaid was an outspoken and prominent secular opponent of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which is currently running the government.
Associated Foreign Press reported that Ennahda offices were attacked and a number of protests had broken out in several towns throughout the country. At least 1,000 people protested outside the interior ministry in Tunis shouting abuse.
The BBC quoted the Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali as saying that the assassination was an ‘act of terrorism’, and a blow to the country’s Arab Spring revolution, which took place in January 2011.
The murder prompted President Moncef Marzouki to cut short a foreign tour, and cancel a visit to Cairo to attend the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. The president urged “restraint and wisdom”, dubbing the murder as an “odious” crime designed to “lead the Tunisian people to violence.”
France condemned the murder, describing Belaid as a courageous fighter for human rights.
“This murder robs Tunisia of one of its most courageous and free voices,” President Francois Hollande said,.
Belaid headed the opposition Democratic Patriots party, a member of the Popular Front coalition of leftist parties that has emerged to challenge the government. He had been a harsh critic of the Ennahda-led government.
The murder of Belaid comes at a time when Tunisia is witnessing a rise in violence fed by political and social discontent two years after the mass uprising that toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Several opposition parties and trade unions have accused pro-Islamist groups of orchestrating clashes or attacks against them.
The country is in the throes of a political crisis as talks on a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle to include a wider range of parties in a coalition led by the Ennahda party have broken down.