Clashes as crowds mourn Tunisia opposition head
By Kaouther Larbi, AFPTUNIS -- Tunisian police fired tear gas amid clashes in the capital Friday as tens of thousands of mourners joined the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose murder has plunged the country into fresh postrevolution turmoil.
February 9, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
Dozens of demonstrators skirmished with police on the margins of the funeral procession in Tunis, a city paralyzed by a general strike called in protest at Wednesday's cold-blooded killing of the leftist leader.
“With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr,” shouted the mourners, who included prominent politicians. They also chanted slogans denouncing the ruling Ennahda party as “assassins.”
Among the demonstrators, Belaid's widow Besma held two fingers in the air in the victory sign, as a chant of “The people want a new revolution” rang through the crowd.
It was all too much for his eight-year-old daughter, who fainted amid the chaotic and emotional scenes as the funeral procession set off on its three and a half kilometer (two-mile) journey to the cemetery.
“My son is a man who lived with courage and dignity. I was never afraid, he left as martyr for our country,” said Salah Belaid, his father.
“We lost a great hero,” Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister who is now a center-right opposition leader, told AFP.
The opposition has accused the Islamist party, which dominates the governing coalition, of eliminating the outspoken government critic, after months of simmering tensions between liberals and Islamists over the future direction of the once proudly secular Muslim nation.
Groups of protesters tried to attack cars outside the El-Jellaz cemetery in southern Tunis, but police fired tear gas to disperse them.
In the city center, police clashed with youths who had gathered on Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
Armored vehicles and troops had taken up positions along the landmark boulevard, epicenter of the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked a wave of Arab world uprisings.
Belaid, 48, was shot dead by a lone, hooded gunman, early Wednesday as he left his home to go to work.
As a general strike called by the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) took hold, troops were deployed in the towns of Zarzis, another social flashpoint in the south near Libya and Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the 2011 revolution.
Police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration in the central mining town of Gafsa, the scene of sporadic rioting in the aftermath of Belaid's killing, where protesters set alight a police station on Friday.
The strike is believed to be the biggest since Jan. 14, 2011 — the day Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile.
“For us it is a landmark event because it is a real turning in the history of Tunisia,” said Habib Kazdaghli, the dean of Manouba University, explaining why academics had joined the strike.