Tunisia mourns murdered politician Chokri Belaid

Protesters have clashed with police as thousands attended the funeral of Chokri Belaid

Thousands of Tunisians have attended the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was killed on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.

There were minor clashes as his coffin was carried through Tunis, but the event was largely peaceful.

Sporadic protests and clashes have been reported all around Tunisia, and many workers are observing a general strike.

Unions say the Islamist-led government is to blame for the killing, an accusation it denies.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has tried to defuse tensions by announcing he would form a non-partisan, technocratic government.

His governing Ennahda party has rejected this. But Mr Jebali on Friday told reporters he would go ahead with his plan, saying a technocratic government would not require the approval of the constituent assembly.

'Stealing the revolution'

Analysis

An estimated one million people took to the streets of Tunis , not just to mourn the man who had become their unofficial spokesman but also to demonstrate the strength and resilience of Tunisian civil society.

This country has polarised since the revolution of 2011. Perhaps that should not be a surprise, as revolutionaries, having achieved their initial goal, subsequently discover they have sometimes radically different views on how their society should develop. Indeed, the drama being played out on the streets of Tunisia today is not dissimilar to that we've seen in recent weeks in Egypt.

The difference with Tunisia is that few people expected such post-revolutionary political violence and upheaval here. The country which led the way in the Arab Spring is in turmoil.

Things are not beyond salvation - a renewed promise by the government this evening to appoint an administration of apolitical technocrats could remove some of the suspicions about the intentions and aims of the current, Islamist-led coalition.

But with a stalled economy, tourists staying away and gangs taking advantage of a breakdown in law and order, nor is it impossible to see Tunisia sliding further into the abyss.

A million people on Friday made their voices heard. The ideological battle between liberal, secular Tunisians and ultraconservative Islamists is a battle for the future of the country.

Some 3,000 people initially gathered outside the building in the Djebel Jelloud suburb of Tunis where Mr Belaid's flower-covered coffin lay.

Crowds chanted slogans accusing the government of murdering Mr Belaid, 48.

"With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," the mourners shouted.

Thousands more people then joined the coffin as it was taken on a funeral procession toward the nearby cemetery of el-Jellaz.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the scene of earlier violence.

Police fired tear gas to break up youths attacking cars close to el-Jellaz cemetery, and also at protesters near the interior ministry.

Elsewhere in Tunis, many shops shut and most public transport was not running.

This is the first general strike in 35 years.

A number of flights to and from Tunis-Carthage airport have been cancelled.

Tunisian state television said universities had been ordered to suspend lectures on Saturday and Sunday, while France said it would close its schools in Tunis.

In the city of Sidi Bouzid, some 10,000 people also gathered to mourn Mr Belaid.

In the central town of Gafsa, tear gas was fired amid clashes between protesters and security forces, witnesses and local media said.

The BBC's Wyre Davies in Tunis says tension had been simmering for many months between liberal, secular Tunisians and the Islamist-led government.

He says people who thought the violence and division had ended as the Arab Spring swept through the country two years ago now find themselves protesting on the same streets, fighting with riot police and accusing the Islamist-led government of stealing their revolution.

Policeman killed

Tunisia in the Arab Spring

  • Dec 2010: Trader Mohammad Bouazizi sets himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, sparking anti-government protests, and later dies
  • Jan 2011: Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali stands down as president after escalating protests and clashes
  • March 2011: New technocratic government announced by interim president
  • Oct 2011: Tunisians vote in first elections of Arab Spring
  • Dec 2011: Ex-dissident Moncef Marzouki chosen as president, with Islamist party Ennahada's Hamadi Jebali as PM
  • May 2012: Salafi Islamists clash with police amid a row over alcohol sales
  • June 2012: Mr Ben Ali is sentenced to life in prison over the killing of protesters in the 2011 revolution. Saudi Arabia refuses extradition
  • Feb 2013: Opposition politician Chokri Belaid shot dead; PM announces plans for technocratic government, a move rejected by Ennahada.

Critics say that Ennahda has allowed ultra-conservative Muslim groups to impose their will on a bastion of Arab secularism.

Mr Belaid was the victim of the first political assassination in Tunisia since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

Thousands of people later rallied outside the interior ministry in Tunis, many chanting slogans urging the government to stand down and calling for a new revolution.

In the centre of the capital, a police officer was killed during clashes between police and opposition supporters.

Also on Thursday, demonstrators observing a symbolic funeral for Mr Belaid outside the governor's office in Gafsa clashed with police.

One policeman was said to be in a coma on Friday after being dragged from his car and beaten in the town, the AFP news agency reported.

Map

In Sfax, crowds ransacked a number of shops on Thursday.

Tunisian media reported that more than a dozen Ennahda offices across the country were attacked late on Thursday.

Earlier, four opposition groups - including Mr Belaid's Popular Front - announced that they were pulling out of the country's constituent assembly in protest.

Mr Belaid was a respected human rights lawyer and left-wing secular opponent of the government which took power after the overthrow of long-serving ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Current President Moncef Marzouki said the assassination should not affect Tunisia's revolution. He cut short a visit to France and cancelled a trip to Egypt to return home to deal with the crisis.

Are you in Tunisia? Have you been involved in the demonstrations? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on. In some cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. When sending us pictures, video or eyewitness accounts at no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions

More on This Story

Tunisian transition

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.