Violence mars funeral of Tunisian opposition leader

Fri Feb 8, 2013 1:17pm EST
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By Tarek Amara and Alistair Lyon

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Tunisians turned out on Friday to mourn secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose assassination has deepened a political crisis and led to violent protests against the Islamist-led government.

Teargas and smoke from burning cars at times wafted over the Tunis cemetery where Belaid was buried in the country's biggest funeral since independence leader Habib Bourguiba died in 2000.

Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people gathered to honor Belaid in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.

Belaid's assassination has shocked a country which had hitherto experienced a relatively peaceful political transition since an uprising that inspired others around the Arab world.

It has heightened tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents against a backdrop of frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee the country in January 2011.

"The people want a new revolution," shouted mourners in Tunis, who also sang the national anthem.

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.

Police arrested 150 people during the disturbances in Tunis, Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfi Hidouri said.   Continued...

Soldiers help mourners carry the coffin of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession towards the nearby cemetery of El-Jellaz, where he is to be buried, in the Jebel Jelloud district of Tunis February 8, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili