Tunisia unrest in the capital (January 2011 a
Tunisia unrest in the capital (January 2011 a Israel news photo: courtesy VOA Photo/L. Brya

Protests erupted in the Tunisian capital Tunis on Thursday, after a senior secularist leader was shot dead outside his home. 

Mohammed Brahimi, 58, a prominent member of the Arab nationalist Popular Front party, was shot by two men on a moped, according to The New York Times. His assassination was remarkably similar to that of another Popular Front politician, Chokri Belaid, back in February. Both men were outspoken opponents of the ruling Islamist Ennahada party, and their supporters have blamed Islamists for the killings.

Belaid's killing triggered the largest mass demonstrations in Tunisia since those which brought down the former autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and sparked off the so-called "Arab Spring."

As news broke of Brahimi's murder, thousands of Popular Front supporters protested outside the Interior Ministry, according to France 24.

"The Tunisian public was not happy with the way in which the Chokri Belaid assassination investigation was dealt with... if they mess this up, I think it's going to be extremely bad for them, for their domestic support," said Laryssa Chomiak, director of the Institute for Maghreb Studies. 

For its part, the ruling Ennahada party was quick to condemn the assassination as a "cowardly and despicable crime," calling for the "urgent arrest" of the assassins. 

But protesters were less than impressed, reportedly chanting "down with the rule of the Islamists."

With one eye on the fate of their Islamist cousins the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt, Ennahada and its allies will want to be seen to act quickly and decisively against the killers to avoid the same kind of anti-Islamist backlash.

The assassination comes as Tunisia celebrated its 56th anniversary of independence from France.