Police fire tear gas at slain politician Chokri Belaid's funeral


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The Independent Online

Supporters of Tunisia's ruling moderate Islamist party are being called to attend a pro-government rally a day after clashes between protesters and police, following the funeral of the opposition politician Chokri Belaid, whose assassination this week tipped the country to the edge of revolt.

The funeral brought the largest gathering in Tunis since the revolution two years ago. While many came to mourn, not protest, the mood turned to rage after a youth who had reportedly been attempting to loot cars clashed with police at the cemetery’s edge and police responded with tear gas.

Smoke and noxious gas drifted over the cemetery. “One can understand that they need to direct the crowd, but that gas comes here, menacing the well-being of people who are here to accompany [Mr Belaid], it’s unacceptable,” said Samir Bouktir, one of the participants in the procession.

Most businesses were shut yesterday after Tunisia’s largest labour union called a general strike, the first in more than thirty years as anger grew over the killing of Mr Belaid, who had criticised the Islamist government.

Noomane Fehri, from the opposition Republican Party, said the anger and chaos were indicative of the failure of the governing Ennahda party, which many hold responsible for not providing Mr Belaid with adequate security. “In one year, they’ve managed what took [former President] Ben Ali twenty-three,” Mr Fehri said.

The government is still trying to forge a political solution, after an offer by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to dissolve the government on Wednesday was rejected by President Moncef Marzouki.

Mr Belaid was the first politician killed in Tunisia in over 60 years. The assassination provoked anger, sending thousands into the streets on Wednesday. Much of the anger was directed against the Ennahda party, who saw their headquarters attacked or burned in cities such as Gafsa, Kef, and Monastir.

The murdered politician had been a harsh critic of what he saw as the laxity of Ennahda to the violence of extremist groups, particularly the so-called Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, a network of volunteers who had been known to intimidate opposition supporters.

But today the ruling Ennahda party has called supporters to gather in central Tunis this afternoon to show support for the constitutional assembly whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback when opposition parties withdrew their participation.

Ennahda said the demonstration would also protest against "French interference" after comments earlier in the week by French Foreign Minister Manuel Valls, who denounced the killing as an attack on "the values of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution."