Tunisia buries murdered leader
Riot police on motorcycles ride through tear gas during clashes with protesters in Tunis yesterday. Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitewhill/The New York Times
Tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets amid scattered violence today to mourn secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose assassination has plunged Tunisia deeper into political crisis.
Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people turned out for Mr Belaid's funeral in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.
It was Tunisia's biggest funeral since the death of Habib Bourguiba, independence leader and first president, in 2000.
Tunisia, cradle of the Arab uprisings, is riven by tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011.
"The people want a new revolution," shouted mourners in Tunis, who also sang the national anthem.
Crowds surged around an open army truck carrying Mr Belaid's coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag, from a cultural centre in Jebel al-Jaloud towards the leafy Jallaz cemetery, as a security forces helicopter flew overhead.
Police fired teargas and shots in the air to disperse youths who were smashing cars near the cemetery, forcing some mourners to run from the choking clouds. Police also used teargas against demonstrators outside the interior ministry.
"Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle," mourners chanted, holding portraits of the politician killed near his home on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.
Some demonstrators denounced Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party. "Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal," they chanted. "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."
Police fired teargas to disperse anti-government protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs in the southern mining town of Gafsa, a stronghold of support for Mr Belaid, witnesses said.
Crowds there had chanted "The people want the fall of the regime", a slogan first used against Mr Ben Ali.
In Sidi Bouzid, the southern town where the revolt against the ousted strongman began, about 10,000 marched to mourn Mr Belaid and shout slogans against Ennahda and the government.
Banks, factories and some shops were closed in Tunis and other cities in response to a strike called by unions in protest at Belaid's killing, but buses were running normally.
Tunis Air suspended all its flights because of the strikes, a spokesman for the national airline said, adding that flights operated by other airlines were not affected.
However, airport sources in Cairo said Egypt's national airline EgyptAir had cancelled two flights to Tunisia after staff at Tunis airport joined the general strike.