Tunisian oppn leader gunned down

A Tunisian opposition leader critical of the Islamist-led government was gunned down as he left home Wednesday in the first assassination in post-revolutionary Tunisia, setting off anti-government riots that left downtown Tunis choked with tear gas and patrolled by armored vehicles.

Cheroki Belaid, a leading member of a leftist alliance of parties known as the Popular Front, was shot as he left his house in the capital, Tunis, and was taken to a nearby medical clinic, where he died, the TAP state news agency reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouch called the assassination a "terrorist act'' and said the politician had been shot point-blank several times.

The killing of Chokri Belaid, a 48-year-old lawyer, heightens tensions in the nation whose path from dictatorship to democracy has been seen as a model for the Arab world so far.

Police used tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters who assembled in front of the Interior Ministry in the center of the capital to accuse the government of allowing the assassination to happen. At one point, an ambulance carrying Belaid's body drove in front of the ministry accompanied by protesters before they, too, were forced away.

The city center was left deserted and littered with stones, guarded by police armored vehicles and patrolled by a tank from the national guard. Knots of riot police chased protesters through the elegant downtown streets.

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