Tens of thousands mourn Tunisia opposition leader

Friday 08 February 2013 17.52
Chokri Belaid's coffin is carried through the streets of Jebel al-Jaloud
Chokri Belaid's coffin is carried through the streets of Jebel al-Jaloud

Police and mourners have clashed at the funeral of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose assassination has plunged Tunisia deeper into political crisis.

At least 50,000 people turned out to honour Belaid in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital.

The crowds chanted 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.

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.

The assassination has shocked a country that had until now experienced a relatively peaceful political transition since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011.

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.

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 uncertainty.

Belaid was killed near his home on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of the lawyer and secular opposition figure.

His family have blamed Ennahda, but the party has denied any hand in the shooting.