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Protests

Thousands gather in Tunisia for Belaid's funeral

Thousands of people have gathered in Tunis for the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid. The Tunisian city has been in a state of unrest since his assassination two days ago.

Around 3,000 people waited Friday outside the capital's Cultural Center, where Belaid's body lay before the funeral. A procession is due to make its way to the nearby cemetery of el-Jellaz where the former opposition leader, shot dead Wednesday, will be buried.

"Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle," the crowd chanted, holding portraits of the slain leader.

Some shouted slogans against Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, which has been accused of being behind the killing. "Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal," they chanted. "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."

The military deployed vehicles and troops along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicenter of the 2011 revolution that toppled autocrat president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked a wave of uprisings across the Arab world.

General strike

The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and four opposition groups called for a general strike to coincide with Belaid's funeral. It is not yet clear how many people participated in the work stoppage – UGTT has some 500,000 members – but its effects are already being felt throughout the city.

Streets were deserted, with many shops and factories closing in response to the strike. Tunis' international airport was shut down and airport authorities said all flights to and from the capital were canceled.

Anger over Belaid's death

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 his family blamed Ennahda for the shooting, but the party has denied any involvement.

Crowds have attacked several Ennahda party offices in the capital and other cities in ongoing protests over the past two days. One policeman was killed in riots in Tunis Wednesday.

After Belaid's assassination, Islamist Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali said he would dissolve government and form a cabinet of non-partisan technocrats to rule until elections could be held.

The opposition welcomed Jebali's plan, but his own party is against it, demanding they be consulted before such a move and arguing the government still needs politicians.

dr/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)