Yahoo – AFP, Naomi O'Leary in London, James PHEBY with Dario THUBURN in London
|Floral tributes and candles are placed by a picture of slain Labour MP Jo Cox at a|
vigil in London's Parliament Square on June 16, 2016 (AFP Photo/Daneil Leal-Olivas)
Birstall (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Campaigning for Britain's EU referendum next week was suspended for a second day Friday as the nation reeled from the murder of a popular pro-Europe MP at the height of a bitterly-divisive debate.
Jo Cox, a 41-year-old former aid worker also known for her advocacy for Syrian refugees, was killed on Thursday outside a library where she was supposed to meet constituents in a village in northern England, just a few miles (kilometres) from where she was born.
Eye witness Hichem Ben Abdallah, 56, who works at a cafe next to the library in Birstall, told AFP he heard two shots and saw the petite mother of two on the ground.
Former aid worker Jo Cox had been an
MP for just over a year when she was shot
dead in her constituency (AFP Photo)
A 52-year-old man, named by media as local Thomas Mair, was arrested. Described as a friendly loner by neighbours, Mair also battled mental illness and allegedly had ties to white supremacists.
"He used to scrub his hands with Brillo pads and nail brushes until they were red raw," said Stephen Lees, who used to be friends with Mair's brother.
With just six days left until the historic vote, rival groups campaigning for Britain to leave or remain in the European Union ceased campaigning and politicians joined as one to condemn the killing.
Many commentators questioned whether the murder could be linked to a campaign ahead of the June 23 referendum that has stoked high tension by touching on issues of national identity and immigration.
"We don't yet know the circumstances of this case but there has been an increase in vitriol, I think, in public debate," fellow Labour MP Yvette Cooper told BBC radio.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged British political parties to moderate their speech in the final week.
"The exaggerations and radicalisation of... language do not help to foster an atmosphere of respect," she said.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and parliament speaker John Bercow were due to hold a joint event in the area later on Friday.
Cox, the first British MP to be murdered since Ian Gow was killed by Irish Republican Army paramilitaries in a car bomb in 1990, had complained to police earlier this year about "malicious communications".
In March, police arrested a man who was given a formal warning but later released. He was not the same man in custody for Thursday's attack, the police said.
The Times newspaper said police had been considering putting in place additional security for her, with commentators wondering whether all MPs should be given extra protection.
Before Cox's murder, opinion polls suggested Britons would likely vote to leave the EU, in a prospect that weighed on financial markets and sent the pound tumbling.
The pound rose with Asian stocks Friday after the previous day's selloff, as investors judged the tragedy increased the likelihood of the "Remain" side prevailing.
A woman arrives to leave a floral tribute near the scene of the murder of
Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox in Birstal near Leeds, Britain June 17,
2016 Reuters/Phil Noble
US advocacy group the Southern Poverty Law Center said that Mair, who had lived in Birstall for decades, was a "dedicated supporter" of National Alliance, once the primary neo-Nazi organisation in the United States.
It said he had spent over $620 (550 euros) on reading material from the group, which advocated the creation of an all-white homeland and the eradication of Jewish people.
"Neighbours called him a 'loner' but he also has a long history with white nationalism," the centre said.
It said Mair had purchased a handbook with instructions on how to make a gun, noting that witnesses told British media the assailant used a gun which appeared "old-fashioned" or "homemade".
Another witness, cafe owner Clarke Rothwell, told British media that the gunman had shouted "put Britain first" repeatedly during the attack.
'Fight the hatred'
Cox, whose first speech in parliament defended immigration and diversity, lived with her husband Brendan and their two children aged three and five, on a houseboat on the Thames near Tower Bridge.
Flowers were laid on the roof of the boat where they lived on Friday and residents paid tribute to her.
As the news of her death broke, Brendan issued an impassioned appeal for unity against hatred.
"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now," he wrote.
"One, that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her."