The daughter of assassinated prominent Tunisian opposition
politician Chokri Belaid takes part in his funeral
procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis.
Tens of thousands of Tunisians have turned out 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.
Belaid's assassination has shocked a country which had
hitherto experienced a relatively peaceful political
transition since an uprising that inspired others around the
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
"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
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
Some demonstrators denounced Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the
ruling Islamist Ennahda party. "Ghannouchi, assassin,
criminal," they chanted. "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."
CLASHES IN GAFSA
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
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 cancelled all its flights because of the strike, a
spokesman for the national airline said, adding that normal
service would resume on Saturday.
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, casting doubt over
the status of the government and compounding political
On Friday Jebali reiterated his plan for a cabinet of
technocrats, saying this would not need the approval of the
National Constituent Assembly because he was not dissolving
his government, but would replace all of its members.
"This government is ready," he told reporters, without
disclosing the names of his new ministers.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid,
a lawyer and secular opposition figure.
His family have blamed Ennahda but the party has denied any
hand in the shooting. Crowds have attacked several Ennahda
party offices in Tunis and other cities in the past two days.
"Hope still exists in Tunisia," Fatma Saidan, a noted
Tunisian actor, told Reuters at Belaid's funeral. "We will
continue to struggle against extremism and political
She called for national unity, saying: "We are ready to
accept Islamists, but they don't accept us."
While Belaid had only a modest political following, his
criticism of Ennahda policies spoke for many Tunisians who
fear religious radicals are bent on snuffing out freedoms won
in the first of the revolts that rippled through the Arab
Secular groups have accused the Islamist-led government of a
lax response to attacks by ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamists on
cinemas, theatres and bars in recent months.
The economic effect of political uncertainty and street
unrest could be serious in a country which has yet to draft a
new constitution and which relies heavily on the tourist
Mohamed Ali Toumi, president of the Tunisian Federation of
Travel Agencies, described the week's events as a catastrophe
that would have a negative impact on tourism, but he told the
national news agency TAP no cancellations had been reported
France, which had already announced the closure of its
schools in Tunis on Friday and Saturday, urged its nationals
to stay clear of potential flashpoints in the capital.
The cost of insuring Tunisian government bonds against
default rose to its highest level in more than four years
this week and ratings agency Fitch said it could further
downgrade Tunisia if political instability continues or