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Tunisian Mourners, Police Clash at Opposition Leader Funeral

  • Lisa Bryant

Tunisians hold a placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis, February 8, 2013.

Tunisians hold a placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis, February 8, 2013.

Thousands of people flocked to Tunis's main cemetery, as they paid last respects to a leftist opposition politician who was assassinated earlier this week. Friday's event was marred by violence as police fired tear gas and clashed with young protesters outside the cemetery.

The cemetery was a sea of people who scaled walls and tombstones under rain and wind, straining for a glimpse of the funeral cortege of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Some sang Tunisia's national anthem and many showed up with Tunisia's red and white flag wrapped around them.

Many expressed anger at Tunisia's rising insecurity that culminated in Belaid's assassination on Wednesday - and bitterness that the hopes of the country's 2011 revolution have failed to pan out. That was the reaction of 50-year-old doctor Slim Sambura, who attended Belaid's funeral with his family.

tunisia tear gas

tunisia tear gas

"We do a revolution the 14th of January [2011] for good life, democracy and safety. And now we don't have security, we don't have democracy. And our government doesn't do anything for the safety, for security for our children," said Belaid.

Many Tunisians are concerned about the rise of hardline Islamists, who have reportedly attacked or threatened opposition politicians, artists and other secular figures. Belaid's family has blamed the ruling party, Ennahda, for his death. The party adamantly denies the accusation, however, and has condemned his killing.

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But some demonstrators at the funeral held banners labeling Ennahda assassins.

Business executive Reima Chtioui said that even if Ennahda is not directly responsible for Belaid's death, it is partly responsible because it allowed violence to escalate in recent months.

Belaid's death marks a worrying turn for this North African nation once heralded as a possible model for Arab democracy. Trade unions also declared a national strike on Friday.

The country's rising violence was underscored at the end of the funeral ceremony, as police lobbed tear gas and clashed with protesters outside the walls of the cemetery. People attending the funeral fled, with scarves wrapped around their faces. Unrest also was reported elsewhere in Tunisia on Friday.

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