Tunisians call for fall of new regime as murdered opposition politician buried
A crowd watches as the coffin of Chokri Belaid is carried during his funeral in the Jallez cemetery in Tunis yesterday. photograph: new york times
Tens of thousands of Tunisians turned out yesterday to mourn secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose assassination has deepened a political crisis and led to violent protests against the Islamist-led government.
Teargas and smoke from burning cars at times wafted over the Tunis cemetery where Belaid was buried in the country’s biggest funeral since independence leader Habib Bourguiba died in 2000.
Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people gathered to honour Belaid in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.
Mr Belaid’s assassination has shocked a country that had hitherto experienced a relatively peaceful political transition since an uprising that inspired others around the Arab world.
It has heightened tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents against a backdrop of frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country in January 2011.
“The people want a new revolution,” shouted mourners in Tunis, who also sang the national anthem.
Violence erupted near the cemetery as police fired teargas at demonstrators who threw stones and set cars ablaze. Police also used teargas against protesters near the interior ministry, a frequent flashpoint for clashes in the Tunisian capital.
Police arrested 150 people during the disturbances in Tunis, interior ministry spokesman Lotfi Hidouri said.
Crowds surged around an open army truck carrying 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.
“Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle,” crowds 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 Belaid, witnesses said.
Crowds there had chanted “The people want the fall of the regime”, a slogan first used against 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.
After Belaid’s assassination, prime minister Hamdi Jebali, an Islamist, said he would dissolve the government and form a cabinet of technocrats to rule until elections could be held.
But his own Ennahda party and its secular coalition partners complained they had not been consulted on the decision, casting doubt over the status of the government and compounding political uncertainty. – (Reuters)