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50,000 Tunisians Mourn Slayed Opposition Leader

Reports of teargas outside the cemetary as mourners chant, 'The people want a new revolution'

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Mourners carry the coffin of murdered opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in Tunis on Friday, February 8. (Photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Over 50,000 mourners lined the streets of the Tunisian capital on Friday for the funeral procession of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was shot outside of his home earlier this week.

Protests spilled over into the burial service in southern Tunis where, according to witnesses, police fired teargas at people outside the cemetery.

The day of unrest follows a nation-wide general strike on Friday. The strike was called by the country’s biggest labor union in protest of Belaid's killing, which "brought the capital Tunis to a near standstill" with banks, factories and shops shuttered in a number of cities, Democracy Now reports. Tunis Air also took part, cancelling all their flights for the day.

For the three days since the shooting, demonstrators have taken to the streets calling for the dissolution of the coalition government, headed by the Islamic Ennahda party.

Reporting on today's service, Al Jazeera writes:

As Belaid's body was lowered into the ground, thousands of people cried "Allahu akbar!" [God is greatest] before singing the national anthem and reciting the opening verse of the Quran.[...]

The interior ministry said 132 people were arrested and estimated the size of the funeral crowd at 40,000.

Belaid's widow Besma held two fingers in the air in a victory sign as a chant of "The people want a new revolution" rang out.[...]

Hamma Hammami, a leader of the Popular Front, the alliance of leftist parties to which Belaid belonged, gave a graveside oration, followed by a minute's silence.

"Rest in peace, Chokri, we will continue on your path," Hammami told the huge crowd of mourners thronging El-Jellaz cemetery.

Demonstrations of mourning and rebellion took place in other cities, as well. Reuters reports in the southern town of Gafsa, which was a stronghold of support for Belaid, "police fired teargas to disperse anti-government protesters throwing stones and petrol bombs." 

Also, in the town of Sidi Bouzid—where the 2011 self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi triggered a chain of popular revolts across the Arab World—about 10,000 marched to mourn Belaid and shout slogans against Ennahda and the government.

Though many are claiming Belaid's murder was politically motivated, the details are still unknown. In a news conference late Thursday night, presidential spokesman Adnan Mancer announced that police were questioning a possible suspect.

Human rights watchdog groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are calling for a thorough examination into, what appears to be, the assassination of the outspoken opposition leader.

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