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Tunisia Braces for Unrest following Funeral of Slain Opposition Leader | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A police officer fires teargas to break up a protest in Gafsa February 7, 2013. (Reuters)


A police officer fires teargas to break up a protest in Gafsa February 7, 2013. (Reuters)

A police officer fires teargas to break up a protest in Gafsa February 7, 2013. (Reuters)


London, Asharq Al-Awsat-Tens of thousands of mourners chanted anti-Islamist slogans on Friday at the funeral of Tunisian secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose death has plunged the country into a political crisis. Mourners chanted, “Belaid, rest in peace, we will continue the struggle.” Crowds surged around the open military truck that was carrying Belaid’s coffin, draped in a red and white Tunisian flag. Others reportedly chanted slogans against the leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, seemingly predicting major national unrest later today. They chanted, “Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal”, and “Tunisia is free, terrorism out.” The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) has called a national strike to coincide with Belaid’s funeral, with tens of thousands expected to take to the streets on Friday amid a deepening political crisis.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed in the capital’s Habib Bourguiba Avenue, which was the epicenter of the 2011 Tunisian uprising. Protesters clashed with police on Thursday, who responded by firing tear-gas. Tunisian presidential spokesman Adnan Mancer announced late Thursday that the police and army had been put on alert to prevent any outbreaks of violence and to “deal with any troublemakers.” Banks, factories and many shops have also closed in response to the general strike called for by one of Tunisia’s most powerful unions. Tunis Air also suspended all flights for one day.

Following Belaid’s assassination on Wednesday, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali pledged to dissolve the Islamist-led government and replace it with a “small technocrat government”, adding that the new cabinet’s mandate will be “limited to managing the affairs of the country until elections are held in the shortest possible time.” However these plans were thrown into doubt on Thursday when Jebali’s own party, the ruling Ennahda movement, rejecting this move. All three ruling parties-in addition to some opposition groups-rebuffed Jebali’s plan to form a small technocratic government until elections can be held, demanding consultation.

Attempting to calm the situation, Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi’s chief of staff, Zoubeir Chehoudi, denied any split between the party and Prime Minister Jebali. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday, he also denied any personal issues between Ghannouchi and Jebali. However he confirmed that Jebali’s decision to establish a “technocrat” government is not in anybody’s interests.

He said, “We don’t think it is possible to execute Jebali’s decision because this is constitutionally impossible, for he should have offered his resignation to the head of state. We think this is an idea that lacks maturity and calm, and was perhaps taken as a result of anxiety following the assassination.” Washington has urged Tunisia’s leaders to come together and resolve the tension. Speaking on Thursday, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “There’s no place for violence in Tunisia’s democracy” adding “It won’t resolve the issues that Tunisians face and it’s not an appropriate response to murder. It’s only going to bring more violence.” No one has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Chokri Belaid, leader of the left-wing Unified National Democratic Party and a strong critic of the ruling Islamist Ennahda movement. Belaid was shot dead outside of his home in Tunis on Wednesday morning by a man who fled on motorcycle.

Belaid’s family blamed the Ennahda party for his killing, with the ruling Islamist-led movement strongly denying any involvement.

Speaking on Thursday, Chokri Belaid’s widow was quoted by Reuters as saying, “Criminal assassinated Chokri but will not assassinate his struggle.” She added, “My sadness ended when I saw thousands flocking to the streets . . . At that moment I knew that the country is fine and men and women in my country are defending democracy, freedom, and life.”

A placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid is displayed during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis February 8, 2013. (Reuters)

A placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid is displayed during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis February 8, 2013. (Reuters)

A woman wrapped in a national flag walks past a Tunisian soldier standing guard during late opposition leader Chokri Belaid's funeral procession on February 8, 2013. (AFP)

A woman wrapped in a national flag walks past a Tunisian soldier standing guard during late opposition leader Chokri Belaid’s funeral procession on February 8, 2013. (AFP)