Region | Tunisia

Tunisians clash with police outside cemetery

The people want a new revolution, rallyists shout at Belaid’s funeral

  • Reuters
  • Published: 17:30 February 8, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: REUTERS
  • Mourners carry the coffin of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession.
Image 1 of 3
123

Tunis, Tunisia: Police have used tear gas and clashed with groups of young men outside the cemetery where Tunisians were preparing to bury an assassinated leftist politician.

The private Nessma television station reported that gangs of youths were attempting to steal the cars of mourners and began throwing stones when confronted by police.

Police responded with tear gas, some of which floated into the cemetery itself. Members of the crowd tried to stop the young people from throwing rocks.

The slaying of 48-year-old lawyer Shukri Belaid has exacerbated Tunisia’s long-running political crisis. Belaid’s funeral procession had not yet reached the cemetery when the clashes began.

Braving chilly rain, at least 50,000 people turned out for Belaid’s funeral in his home district of Jebel al-Jaloud in the capital, chanting anti-Islamist and anti-government slogans.

It was Tunisia’s biggest funeral since the death of Habib Bourguiba, independence leader and first president, in 2000.

Tunisia, cradle of the Arab uprisings, is riven by tensions between dominant Islamists and their secular opponents, and by frustration at the lack of social and economic progress since President Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali was ousted in January 2011.

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

Crowds surged around an open army truck carrying Belaid’s coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag, from a cultural centre in Jebel Al Jaloud towards the leafy Jallaz cemetery, as a security forces helicopter flew overhead.

Police fired teargas and shots in the air to disperse youths who were smashing cars near the cemetery, forcing some mourners to run from the choking clouds. Police also used teargas against demonstrators outside the Interior Ministry.

“Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle,” mourners chanted, holding portraits of the politician killed near his home on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.

Some demonstrators denounced Rashid Gannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Al Nahda party. “Gannouchi, assassin, criminal,” they chanted. “Tunisia is free, terrorism out.”

Police fired teargas to disperse anti-government protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs in the southern mining town of Gafsa, a stronghold of support for Belaid, witnesses said.

Crowds there had chanted “The people want the fall of the regime”, a slogan first used against Bin Ali.

CRADLE OF REVOLT

In Sidi Bouzid, the southern town where the revolt against the ousted strongman began, about 10,000 marched to mourn Belaid and shout slogans against Al Nahda and the government.

Banks, factories and some shops were closed in Tunis and other cities in response to a strike called by unions in protest at Belaid’s killing, but buses were running normally.

Tunis Air suspended all its flights because of the strikes, a spokesman for the national airline said, adding that flights operated by other airlines were not affected.

However, airport sources in Cairo said Egypt’s national airline EgyptAir had cancelled two flights to Tunisia after staff at Tunis airport joined the general strike.

After Belaid’s assassination, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, an Islamist, said he would dissolve the government and form a cabinet of technocrats to rule until elections could be held.

But his own Al Nahda party and its secular coalition partners complained they had not been consulted, casting doubt over the status of the government and compounding political uncertainty.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing of Belaid, a lawyer and secular opposition figure.

His family have blamed Al Nahda but the party has denied any hand in the shooting. Crowds have attacked several Al Nahda party offices in Tunis and other cities in the past two days.

“Hope still exist in Tunisia,” Fatma Saidan, a noted Tunisian actor, told Reuters at Belaid’s funeral. “We will continue to struggle against extremism and political violence.”

She called for national unity, saying: “We are ready to accept Islamists, but they don’t accept us.”

SECULAR SYMBOL

While Belaid had only a modest political following, his criticism of Al Nahda 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.

Secular groups have accused the Islamist-led government of a lax response to attacks by ultra-orthodox Salafist Islamists on cinemas, theatres and bars in recent months.

The economic effect of political uncertainty and street unrest could be serious in a country which has yet to draft a new constitution and which relies heavily on the tourist trade.

Mohammad Ali Toumi, president of the Tunisian Federation of Travel Agencies, described the week’s events as a catastrophe that would have a negative impact on tourism, but he told the national news agency TAP no cancellations had been reported yet.

France, which had already announced the closure of its schools in Tunis on Friday and Saturday, urged its nationals to stay clear of potential flashpoints in the capital.

“Unless unavoidable, it is best to stay away from the city centre today, and steer clear of demonstrations and major road crossings or sensitive buildings,” said Helene Conway-Mouret, minister in charge of French people living abroad.

The Austrian foreign ministry issued a similar warning.

The cost of insuring Tunisian government bonds against default rose to its highest level in more than four years on Thursday and ratings agency Fitch said it could further downgrade Tunisia if political instability continues or worsens.

Gulf News
News Editor's choice
Quick Links

  1. Business

  2. Sport

  3. The latest Entertainment news

  4. The latest Lifestyle stories

  5. Opinion

Gulf Country Finder

  1. The latest news from the UAE

  2. Saudi Arabia

  3. Qatar

  4. Bahrain

  5. Oman

  6. Kuwait

  7. Yemen

Region Country Finder

  1. Syria

  2. Palestinian territories

  3. Jordan

  4. Lebanon

  5. Iran

  6. Iraq

  7. Egypt

Influencers

  1. United States of America

  2. India

  3. Pakistan

  4. United Kingdom

Regions

  1. Gulf

  2. Region

  3. The latest news from around the world