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Slain Tunisian politician buried amid clashes

Tens of thousands take to streets for funeral procession of Shokri Belaid amid nationwide protests.
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2013 09:04

Tens of thousands of mourners have gathered for the funeral of an assassinated Tunisian opposition leader, chanting anti-government slogans, with clashes reported outside the cemetery where he was buried.

Police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters on Friday as people joined the funeral of Shokri Belaid, whose murder by an unidentified gunman has plunged Tunisia into political crisis.

The authorities had earlier fired shots in the air to disperse youths who were smashing cars in the area. The interior ministry said 132 people were arrested and estimated the size of the funeral crowd at 40,000.

Belaid was buried at around 15:00 GMT at a cemetery in southern Tunis. As his body was lowered into the ground, thousands of people cried  "Allahu akbar!" [God is greatest] before singing the national anthem and reciting the opening verse of the Quran.

"With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," shouted mourners, who also chanted slogans denouncing the Ennahda party as "assassins".

The murder of leftist leader, a harsh critic of the government, sparked days of rioting by his supporters, who hold the ruling Ennahda party complicit in his death, a charge the party has denied.

General strike

The nation was largely shut down on Friday due to a general strike called by the labour unions in solidarity with Belaid's murder.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Tunis, said the strike called by the North African country's biggest union had caused mass disruptions, with most businesses closed and even the international airport being affected.

"A big army force is out to prevent any clashes between protesters... This is the biggest concern, to have casualties. It could plunge Tunisia back into more violence and uncertainty," he said.

Belaid's widow Besma held two fingers in the air in a victory sign as a chant of "The people want a new revolution" rang out. The murdered politician's eight-year-old daughter fainted amid the chaotic and emotional scenes as the procession set off on its 3.5km journey to the cemetery.

Hamma Hammami, a leader of the Popular Front, the alliance of leftist parties to which Belaid belonged, gave a graveside oration, followed by a minute's silence.

"Rest in peace, Shokri, we will continue on your path," Hammami told the huge crowd of mourners thronging El-Jellaz cemetery.

'Overcome differences'

Meanwhile, Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali has urged his people to overcome their differences following the assassination of Belaid.

Earlier in the day, crowds in Tunis surged around an open army truck carrying Belaid's coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag, from a cultural centre in the slain leader's home district of Jebel al-Jaloud.

"Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle," they chanted, holding slain leader's portrait. Many shouted slogans against Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party.

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Janabi, reporting from Tunis, said supporters of Ennahda had gathered outside parliament. They said they had come out to "defend the revolution" and denounce the assassination of Belaid.

After the funeral Prime Minister Jebali, in a televised address, reasserted his conviction that a new non-partisan government was needed, despite Ennahda rejecting the prime minister's proposal to dissolve the government in a bid to restore calm.

"I insist on my decision to form a technocratic government," he told reporters, saying this would not require the approval of the National Constituent Assembly.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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