Friday, February 08, 2013

Chokri Belaid Death: Tense Tunisia to Bury Slain Leader Chokri Belaid

7 February 2013
Last updated at 22:25 ET
BBC World Service

Chokri Belaid death: Tense Tunisia to bury slain leader

Tunisia is to bury a murdered opposition leader amid huge tension surrounding his assassination.

Towns nationwide are braced for another day of tension and violence as Chokri Belaid is buried in the capital, Tunis.

The country's largest trade union has called for a general strike on Friday.

Protests on Thursday saw police fire tear gas at protesters in Tunis and the central town of Gafsa, as a political crisis deepened with the governing Islamist party refused to back its PM.

The demonstrators want the downfall of the government led by the Islamist Ennahda party, which they blame for Wednesday's assassination of Mr Belaid.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has attempted to defuse tensions by calling for a g non-partisan technocratic government but the Islamist Ennahda party which leads the government has refused to accept this.

Thus Wednesday's assassination has exposed many months of tensions between liberal, secular Tunisians and the Islamist led government, says the BBC's Wyre Davies in Tunis.

Ennahda denies opposition claims that it was behind the killing.

People who thought the violence and division had ended as the Arab Spring swept through the country almost exactly two years ago, now find themselves protesting on the same streets, fighting with riot police and accusing the new Islamist-led government of stealing their revolution.

The death of Mr Belaid, a leading critic of the governing party has proved to Tunisians what they already feared, says our correspondent, and Friday's funeral is certain to be an emotional and highly charged event.

Government critics say that in recent months, Ennahda has allowed ultra-conservative Muslim groups to impose their will and opinions on what was always regarded as a bastion of Arab secularism.

Policeman killed

In Gafsa on Thursday, demonstrators observing a symbolic funeral outside the governor's office clashed with police.

Among the protesters were lawyers and judges who have launched a two-day strike in response to the killing.

Earlier, four opposition groups - including Mr Belaid's Popular Front - announced that they were pulling out of the country's constituent assembly in protest.

Tunisian state TV said universities had been ordered to suspend lectures on Saturday and Sunday, while France said it would close its schools in the Tunis.

The first political assassination in Tunisia since the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, Mr Belaid was shot dead at close range on his way to work. The attacker fled on the back of a motorcycle.

Thousands of people later rallied outside the interior ministry, many chanting slogans urging the government to stand down and calling for a new revolution.

In the centre of Tunis, a police officer was killed during clashes between police and opposition supporters protesting against Mr Belaid's death.

Mr Belaid was a respected human rights lawyer, and a left-wing secular opponent of the government which took power after the overthrow of long-serving ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Current President Moncef Marzouki said the assassination should not affect Tunisia's revolution, cutting short a visit to France and cancelling a trip to Egypt to return home to deal with the crisis.

Are you in Tunisia? Have you been involved in the demonstrations? Send us your comments and experiences.

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