More than two years after the Jasmine Revolution brought down the government of President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali, starting the so-called Arab Spring, violent protests have returned to the streets of Tunisia.
Police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters on Friday as tens of thousands joined the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose murder plunged Tunisia into new post-revolt turmoil, AFP reported.
According to the report, skirmishes erupted on the margins of the funeral procession which turned into a demonstration in Tunis, a city paralyzed by a general strike called in protest of Wednesday’s assassination of the leftist leader.
The interior ministry said 132 people were arrested and estimated the size of the funeral crowd at 40,000.
“With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr,” shouted mourners, who also chanted slogans denouncing the ruling Ennahda party as “assassins”.
Belaid, 48, was shot dead at close range by a lone, hooded gunman as he left home for work on Wednesday.
The murdered politician’s eight-year-old daughter fainted amid chaotic and emotional scenes as Friday’s procession began.
“My son is a man who lived with courage and dignity. He was never afraid, he left as a martyr for our country,” said Salah Belaid, his father, according to AFP.
“We lost a great hero,” Beji Caid Essebsi, a former premier and now a centre-right opposition leader, told AFP.
The opposition has accused Ennahda, the Islamist party that dominates the ruling coalition, of eliminating the outspoken government critic after months of simmering tensions between liberals and Islamists over the future direction of the once proudly secular Muslim nation.
The Ennahda party, which has been described as moderate Islamist, ascended to power in the first democratic elections in the country, receiving 89 out of 217 seats, more than triple the seats won by any other party.
The party subsequently said that Islamic law will not be enshrined in the country’s new constitution but at the same time held talks with the more extreme Salafists.
Police on Friday fired tear gas at rioters who tried to set fire to cars opposite the cemetery in southern Tunis, sending up thick plumes of smoke and causing some panic, reported AFP.
Armored vehicles and troops deployed along the landmark boulevard, epicenter of the 2011 revolution that toppled Ben Ali, said the report.
As a general strike called by the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) took hold, troops were deployed in the towns of Zarzis in the south and Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the 2011 uprising.
Police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration in the central mining town of Gafsa, the scene of sporadic rioting after Belaid’s killing.
The general strike is believed to be the biggest since January 14, 2011 — the day Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali responded to Belaid’s murder by saying he would form a government of technocrats. Any reshuffle would have to be confirmed by the national assembly.
But a faction of his Ennahda party rejected the move, fuelling uncertainty as political infighting delays a deal on a new constitution.
Jebali late on Friday insisted he was committed to the plan.