Tunis at standstill amid clashes and Chokri Belaid funeral

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 4:52am


Tunisian police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters yesterday as tens of thousands joined the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, whose murder has plunged the country into new post-revolt turmoil.

The skirmishes erupted on the margins of the funeral procession, which turned into a demonstration in Tunis, a city paralysed by a general strike called in protest at Wednesday's assassination of the leftist leader.

"With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," shouted the mourners, who also chanted slogans denouncing the ruling Ennahda party as "assassins".

Among the demonstrators were prominent politicians and Belaid's widow, Besma, who held two fingers in the air in a victory sign as the mourners chanted, "The people want a new revolution".

It was all too much for his eight-year-old daughter, who fainted amid the chaotic and emotional scenes as the procession set off on its 3.5 kilometre journey to the cemetery.

"My son is a man who lived with courage and dignity. He was never afraid, he left as a martyr for our country," said Salah Belaid, his father.

"We lost a great hero," Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister who is now a centre-right opposition leader, said.

As a general strike called by the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers took hold, troops were deployed in the towns of Zarzis and Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the 2011 uprising.