Thousands attend slain minister’s funeral

TUNIS – Thousands of Tunisians have attended the funeral of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was killed on Wednesday by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle.

There were minor clashes as his coffin was carried through Tunis, but the event was largely peaceful.

Sporadic protests and clashes have been reported all around Tunisia, and many workers are observing a general strike.

Unions say the Islamist-led government is to blame for the killing, an accusation it denies.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has tried to defuse tension by calling for a non-partisan technocratic government. However, his governing Ennahda party has refused to accept this.

Some 3,000 people initially gathered outside the building in the Djebel Jelloud suburb of Tunis where Belaid’s flower-covered coffin lay.

Crowds chanted slogans accusing the government of murdering Belaid, 48.

“With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr,” the mourners shouted.

Thousands more people then joined the coffin as it was taken on a funeral procession toward the nearby cemetery of el-Jellaz.

Many more people are expected to take to the streets of the capital after Friday prayers and ahead of the burial in the afternoon.

Hundreds of riot police have been deployed in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the scene of earlier violence.

Police fired tear gas to break up youths attacking cars close to el-Jellaz cemetery, and also at protesters near the interior ministry. (BBC)

Elsewhere in Tunis, many shops are shut and most public transport is not running.

This is the first general strike in 35 years.

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