Opposition leader's funeral brings day of reckoning for Tunisia

Thu Feb 7, 2013 6:54pm EST
 

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's political crisis looked likely to deepen on Friday with strikes and protests planned around the funeral of assassinated opposition politician Chokri Belaid.

Belaid's killing on Wednesday has brought thousands of people onto the streets of the capital Tunis and other cities in violence-marred protests.

Unions have called a general strike for Friday, setting the stage for further confrontation two years on from the pro-democracy revolution that inspired the Arab Spring.

Tunisia is riven by tensions between the dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by disillusionment over the lack of social progress since the overthrow of dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

In response to Belaid's assassination, Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali, an Islamist, said on Wednesday he would dissolve the government, name a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats and hold early elections. But his partners opposed the move and it is yet to be approved by parliament.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid, a lawyer and secular political figure, who was shot by a gunman as he left home for work on Wednesday.

But a crowd set fire to the headquarters of Ennahda, the Islamist party of Prime Minister Jebali, who leads a coalition with two junior secularist parties. Ennahda denies any involvement.

While Belaid had only a modest political following, his criticism of Ennahda policies spoke for many Tunisians who fear religious radicals are bent on snuffing out freedoms won in the first of the revolts that rippled through the Arab world.   Continued...

 
Protesters take part in a demonstration in Gafsa February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer