Slain Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid buried amid popular anger

People carry the coffin of late opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession which makes its way to the nearby cemetery of El-Jellaz. (AFP)

Tunisian liberal opposition leader Chokri Belaid was buried on Friday in the capital Tunis in a funeral attended by an estimated by 1.4 million people, many of them chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.

Tunisia faces general strike

It was Tunisia’s biggest funeral since the death of Habib Bourguiba, independence leader and first president, in 2000.

Belaid’s assassination has plunged Tunisia deeper into political crisis.
Mondher Thabet, a Tunisian political analyst, warned that some radical Islamist movements have accused the moderate ruling Islamist Ennahda party of having drifted from a projected Islamist path for Tunisia’s political future.

Thabet said some Jihadist Salafi groups criticized the government for organizing an Islamic funeral for Belaid.

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 army was deployed and helicopters circled overhead as more than 50,000 people massed along the 3.5 kilometer (2 mile) route that bore Belaid’s coffin as it was transported to the Jellaz Cemetery from the Djebel Jelloud district

Tunis was at a near standstill, and all flights to and from the country’s main airport were cancelled after the country’s biggest union called a general strike to protest Belaid’s killing.

The mourners shouted slogans denouncing the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, calling them “assassins,” and women ululated as they accompanied Belaid, who was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday, to his final resting place.

“With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr,” shouted the crowd, which included prominent politicians.

There were chaotic and emotional scenes earlier, with one of Belaid’s daughters fainting in tears.

“My son is a man who lived with courage and dignity. I was never afraid, he left as martyr for our country,” said the mother of the leftist opposition leader, who was shot dead outside his house early on Wednesday by a lone gunmen.

“We lost a great hero,” Beji Caid Essebsi, a centre-right opposition leader and former premier, told AFP.

But he sounded an optimistic note, despite the deepening political crisis and the violence that has rocked the country since Wednesday, saying: “We must never fear the worst.”

Belaid’s funeral coincided with weekly prayers in the Muslim country, whose long-established secular tradition has been countered by the rise of one of the region’s most powerful Islamist parties.

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Last Update: Thursday, 14 February 2013 KSA 15:12 - GMT 12:12
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