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Tunisia on Edge

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Clashes Emerge as Thousands Protest Murder of Tunisian Opposition Leader

February 8th 2013

Tunisia riot

Clashes between police and protesters have broken out in Tunis during the funeral of a slain secular opposition leader. Tens of thousands of mourners converged on the main cemetery in the Tunisian capital on February 8 for the funeral procession of Chokri Belaid, who was gunned down earlier this week outside his home.

​VOA reporter Lisa Bryant in Tunis says police used tear gas at the cemetery to make way for the funeral procession. "Hundreds and thousands of people just ran from the tear gas. It was everywhere. One of the reasons is because there [were] just too many people, and [another] reason is that people were apparently setting cars on fire outside. So it's really hard to say what the exact story was," Bryant reported. Mourners scaled walls and tombstones in the rain and wind to get a glimpse of the open army truck carrying Belaid's coffin. Witnesses say some protesters threw stones at the police.

Many mourners chanted anti-Islamist slogans and some held banners denouncing Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party as an "assassin." Belaid's family has accused the ruling party of being complicit in the murder, an accusation the ruling party denies.

Tunisia's Interior Ministry says 132 people were arrested February 8. Even as angry crowds swelled in parts of the capital, other sections of the city were vacant due to a general strike organized by the major trade union. Most businesses were shut and a spokesman for Tunis Air says the company canceled all flights for the day.

VOA's Bryant says many Tunisians are unsure of what lies ahead. "A lot of people are worried about what is going to happen to their revolution, what's happening to Tunisia. And this man sat in front of me and he said, 'you know, we will protect our country. We love our country and we're not afraid; we're going to protect the things we love,'" she reported.

Late Friday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali reiterated his plan to replace the current government with a Cabinet of technocrats - a move the opposition has welcomed. But Jebali's deputy in the ruling Ennahda party has publicly rejected the plan. The rejection highlights divisions within the party. Analysts say this could signal a political crisis as significant as the Tunisian protests that sparked the so-called Arab Spring two years ago. Belaid's family and secularist supporters blame Ennahda for complicity in the assassination, but have offered no evidence. There has been no claim of responsibility.

VOA's Jeff Seldin and Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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