Thousands Gather to Bury a Slain Tunisian Politician

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TUNIS -- Several thousand demonstrators gathered here on Saturday for the funeral of a slain opposition politician in a show of force against the government, which many blame for the assassination. Supporters filled the tree-lined avenues here in downtown Tunis, the capital, as they followed the funeral cortege on foot to a hilltop grave in the city's main cemetery.

The Tunisian government ordered a state funeral for the politician, Mohamed Brahmi, 58, a National Assembly member and the leader of the People's Party, and soldiers drove his coffin across town in a six-vehicle convoy while a military helicopter circled overhead.

But those following the cortege were opponents of the government, and no government figures attended the funeral itself. Led by Mr. Brahmi's own party and its affiliates in the liberal Popular Front, the demonstrators were a mix of leftists, trade unionists and middle-class secularists.

Mr. Brahmi was assassinated by gunmen on Thursday outside his home in a Tunis suburb, an attack witnessed by his wife and children. On Friday, the government blamed an Islamist extremist cell linked to Al Qaeda for the killing and identified the chief suspect as a Salafist who it said was also responsible for the death of another opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, in February.

Protesters chanted slogans against the government and the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, which many blame for allowing violent extremists the freedom to operate. Opposition leaders who joined the protests called for the government to resign and for a national salvation government to replace it before elections.

The funeral was an emotional event for Mr. Brahmi's family and followers, especially after the assassination of Mr. Belaid. Mr. Brahmi's wife and two children joined the cortege, his son giving the victory salute to the crowd as the convoy moved forward.

Mr. Brahmi was laid to rest in the Jellez cemetery, alongside Mr. Belaid, in a corner reserved for martyrs.

"He was killed because he criticized the government," said Nabil Brahmi, who is married to a cousin of Mr. Brahmi's. "He was killed because of his values, his principles and his free speech, because it went against their interests."

The assassination has thrown the country into a new political crisis, revealing deep social divisions between Islamists and their opponents. Two years after the revolution that overturned the dictatorship of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the transitional government has still not passed a new constitution or organized elections amid growing public dissatisfaction.

News agencies reported that one man was killed early on Saturday in an antigovernment protest in the southern city of Gafsa. Violence also broke out in several other cities.

A bomb in a police car exploded in Tunis but caused no casualties; the police spotted the homemade device and cleared the vehicle in time.

After the funeral, opposition groups and government supporters baited one another in a park in front of the National Assembly building. Black-clad riot officers quickly broke up the rival demonstrations, firing tear gas across the small park. They shouted at the demonstrators to go home and moved in to block off the whole area.

Supporters of Mr. Brahmi's party drove the three hours from his home district, Sidi Bouzid, to stand guard at his house as the coffin was brought out on Saturday morning. It was in Sidi Bouzid that the suicide of a fruit seller protesting police cruelty helped set off the Arab Spring.

"We don't trust Ennahda at all," said Faouzi Gharbi, one of the Brahmi supporters. "We want the assembly and the government dissolved. Either we drag them down or they will drag us down."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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