Tunisian president testifies in probe of politician’s murder

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki testified on Thursday before a judge probing the murder of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, as police narrowed their hunt for his killer to an area near the border with Algeria.

The shooting of secular politician Belaid by a suspected Islamist radical on February 6 provoked the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the overthrow of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.

Secular parties later withdrew their support for Islamist-backed Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, forcing the collapse of his coalition government.

Marzouki, who leads one of Tunisia’s main secular parties, was called to testify because he had warned Belaid in January of a death threat against him and offered him police protection, local media reported.

Secularists had long complained that Jebali’s government was too tolerant of religious radicals emboldened by the fall of Ben Ali, whose government spent decades suppressing Islamists.

A swift arrest and trial of Belaid’s killer could calm the political turmoil that has stalled efforts to rebuild an economy hit hard by the 2011 uprising.

“The investigating judge at the Court of Tunis heard on Thursday morning President Moncef Marzouki as a witness in the case of Chokri Belaid’s assassination,” the presidency said in a statement.

The interview took place at the Carthage Palace, the head of state’s official residence.

It was the first time a Tunisian president had taken the witness stand in a judicial investigation.

Police believe Belaid’s killer is a 34-year-old member of a radical Islamist Salafi group.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said on Tuesday that police had arrested four other ultra-orthodox Salafis suspected of being accomplices.

“Chokri received many death threats by telephone in his final weeks,” said Belaid’s brother Abd Majid.

Zied Lakdhar, a member of Belaid’s Popular Front party, also said Belaid had refused police protection.

Army and police forces backed by military aircraft were searching the regions of Wad Mliz and Ghar Dimaou near the border with Algeria on Thursday in an effort to catch Belaid’s killer, security sources said.

Source: Reuters


Dalai Lama wants probe into self-immolations

Against a backdrop of rising tension between China and Japan over territorial disputes, the Dalai Lama has demanded during a trip to Tokyo that Beijing investigate a spate of Tibetan self-immolations.

Tibet’s spiritual leader said the self-immolations are a symptom of the desperation and frustration felt by Tibetans living under the Chinese government’s hardline policies in the region, including tight restrictions on religious life.

“I always ask the Chinese government: Please, now, thoroughly investigate. What is the cause of these sort of sad things?” he told a group of Japanese politicians on Tuesday.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winnner blamed “narrow-minded Communist officials” for seeing Buddhist culture as a threat.

On the eve of China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition, the Dalai Lama also urged Japanese parliamentarians to visit Tibet, though such trips are severely restricted, to see what is happening there.

Earlier this month, the UN’s most senior human rights official called on China to address frustrations that have led to Tibetans’ desperate protests, including some 60 self-immolations since March 2011.

Eight self-immolations have been reported over the last six days in Tibet, including two on Monday.

China has long accused the Dalai Lama and his supporters of inspiring and even glorifying such acts, though the spiritual leader says he opposes all violence.

Since anti-government riots in 2008, access even to traditionally Tibetan areas in provinces neighbouring the Tibetan Autonomous Region has been tightly restricted.

The vast majority of the self-immolations have taken place in such areas, often near large monastic communities, and authorities have responded with a large police presence.

Geopolitical dispute

China maintains that Tibet is an integral part of China and that other countries hosting the Dalai Lama amount to interference in domestic Chinese affairs.

“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China separatist activities in the guise of religion,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

“The Japanese government has been conniving with the separatist activities of the Dalai Lama and Japanese right-wing forces, which goes against the principle and spirit of China-Japan strategic relations of mutual benefit,” Hong said.

The Dalai Lama’s remarks came at a time when the relationship between the world’s second and third largest economies is strained.

Japan nationalised two disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese, by purchasing them from their private owners in September.

Shinzo Abe, the leader of the conservative opposition Liberal Democratic Party, welcomed the Dalai Lama to the event.

Abe, who served as Japan’s prime minister in 2006-07, could take the helm again after an election expected to be called as early as next month.

Leadership change

China also faces a pending leadership change for the first time in a decade, with leader in-waiting Xi Jinping expected to succeed President Hu Jintao as Communist Party head at a congress in Beijing this month, and then become president in March.

The Dalai Lama on Tuesday also called upon China to follow the example of its late former leader Deng Xiaoping, who is credited with reforms that brought the market economy to the country.

“I always express the leaders should follow Deng Xiaoping’s sort of advice: seeking truth from fact. That’s very, very important,” he said.

The Dalai Lama fled to India following an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule over Tibet.

He denies seeking the region’s independence, saying that he wishes Tibetans to enjoy real autonomy and the protection of their traditional Buddhist culture.

Source: Al Jazeera