Tunisian police have clashed with protesters gathered for the funeral of Chokri Belaid. The opposition leader's assassination on Wednesday has plunged the city into a renewed state of turmoil.
Violence erupted when gangs of young men threw stones and set cars ablaze as the opposition leader's funeral procession passed through his childhood neighborhood of Jebel Jeloud towards the Jallaz cemetery. Police responded with teargas.
At least 50,000 people chanting anti-government slogans converged on the cemetery on Friday to honor Belaid.
"With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," mourners shouted. Many chanted slogans denouncing Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party as "assassins," and calling for a "new revolution."
He was laid to rest at around 1500 GMT as thousands cried "Allahu akbar!" (God is greatest), before singing the national anthem and reciting a verse of the Koran.
In the city center, meanwhile, police fired teargas at protesters who chanted anti-government slogans on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicenter of the 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked a wave of Arab uprisings in the region. Armoured vehicles and troops had taken up positions along the landmark boulevard.
Separately protests were also held in the southern towns of Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the 2011 revolt, where crowds chanted "the people want the fall of the regime."
General strike takes effect
Tunisia was largely shut down on Friday after the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers called a general strike to protest Belaid's killing.
Banks, factories and some shops were closed in Tunis and a number of other cites. Tunis Air also said it had suspended all its flights due to the strike action.
It is believed to be the biggest strike since January 14, 2011 - the day former president Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile. A general strike that the union had threatened to call back in December was averted through negotiations.
The murder of the secular leader two days ago has thrown Tunisia into renewed turmoil. Tunis has witnessed several days of rioting and the Ennahda party offices in the capital have come under frequent attack.
Belaid, the coordinator of the leftist Popular Front coalition, was shot by an unknown attacker outside his house. He had been a vocal critic of the government in recent months and many regard the ruling Ennahda party as being complicit in his death. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid and the party has fiercely denied allegations against it.
After Belaid's assassination, Islamist Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali said he would dissolve government and form a Cabinet of nonpartisan technocrats to rule until elections could be held.
The opposition welcomed Jebali's plan, but his own party is against it, demanding that members be consulted before such a move and arguing that the government still needs politicians.
ccp/pfd (AFP, Reuters, AP)
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