News Briefs

Tunisian Human Rights Lawyer Assassinated

On Feb. 6, human rights lawyer and leader of the Tunisian Left, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated. The country of Tunisia is particularly known for being the birthplace of the ‘Arab Spring,’ a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and wars that began in 2010. In their first free election in 2011, the Tunisian people selected an assembly to rectify the nation’s constitution.

This assassination, however, has put a cloud over that progress. While Belaid’s political affiliation, the Democratic Patriot’s Movement, has not been so well received, Belaid himself was beloved. After his death, the people reacted with violent anti-government protests. Tunisians turned to attacking the offices of the ruling party, the Ennahda Party (The Hindu, “The assassination of hope,” 2.12.13). At Belaid’s funeral, which had over 120,000 in attendance, confrontations took place outside the cemetery (The Globe and Mail, “To avoid chaos, Tunisia needs stability before democracy,” 2.11.13).

Part of the chaos is due to the fact that Belaid’s assassin is unknown. Witnesses said that Belaid was shot point-black four times by a person who escaped on a Vespa. Belaid, an outspoken critic of the Ennahda government, often questioned the party’s apathy towards violent acts of extremists. Over the years, Belaid was subject to threats from such groups. Given Ennahda’s past unresponsivenesstowards these types of undertakings, Tunisians are calling for independent investigation (The New York Times, “An Assasination in Tunisia,” 2.8.13).

Some argue that the Ennahda Party could not have been involved because they do not have anything to gain from Belaid’s death. Political polarization and anti-government sentiments now permeate Tunisia—which actually hurts the party. Meanwhile the Salafists, a religious extremist group heavily opposed to the Ennahda, stands among the suspects because it abhors secularists such as Belaid. The Salafists, however, are just one of the accused. “The prime suspect is the old ruling elite” noted the Tehran Times. (“Murder mystery in Tunisia,” 2.11.13). This includes members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally, a party loyal to the former dictator of Tunisia. The former elite wants to see democracy fail so their power can be restored.

Nonetheless, Belaid’s wife has vowed to file murder charges against Ennahda and its leader (Tehran Times). With previous cases of politically charged violence and assassination threats, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali is taking action now that a crisis has actually occurred. He has declared that he will be “forming a new technocratic government composed of independent ministers” (The Globe and Mail). Whether or not Tunisia will be able to hold on to its budding democracy, however, is undetermined.

—Anna Iovine, Guest Reporter


Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Latin to a small gathering of cardinals on Monday, announcing that he would step down from his position as head of the Catholic Church. His resignation will be effective on Feb. 28. (The New York Times, “A Statement Rocks Rome, Then Sends Shockwaves Around the World,” 2.11.2013)

Benedict, now 85 years old, is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. He was 78 when he was elected pope in 2005 after the death of John Paul II and was the oldest person ever chosen to head church since the eighteenth century. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Benedict said in his statement on Monday. (The Washington Post, “Pope Benedict XVI to resign, citing age and waning energy.” 2.11.2013)

While the pope had a very rigorous travel and speaking schedule, his resignation was a surprise to all, according to Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson. The pope will now move to a papal residence in Castel Gandolfo after his abdication and then return to Rome to live in a monastery inside the Vatican for prayer and reflection. (Washington Post)

During his 8 years as pope, Benedict faced many challenges including sexual abuse and financial scandals. Most recently, his papacy was disturbed by the “Vatileaks” scandal in which his butler was convicted by a Vatican court of aggravated theft after he stole confidential documents which ended up in a tell all book regarding the Vatican. (The New York Times)

Popes are allowed to resign, as long as the resignation be “freely made and properly manifested” according to church law.

—Emily Hoffman, Guest Reporter


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