Tunisia buries politician as country's crisis deepens
Share with others:
TUNIS, Tunisia -- The funeral Friday of an assassinated leftist politician drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans to the Tunisian capital, as well as gangs of armed youths who smashed cars and clashed with police just outside the cemetery.
Hours later, the prime minister insisted that he would try to form a new government despite his own party's opposition, threatening to resign if his proposal wasn't accepted.
The events added to the growing turmoil in Tunisia, where the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been shaken by religious divides, political wrangling and economic struggles. It has been a perilous stretch for a nation many hoped would be a model for other post-revolutionary Arab states.
People from across the country flowed into Tunis to lay to rest 48-year-old Chokri Belaid, a lawyer and top figure in the Popular Front alliance, who was shot dead Wednesday. Thousands helped carry the coffin of the so-called "defender of the poor" from his parents' home to the Jellaz Cemetery a few miles away.
Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, kicking off the Arab Spring revolutions. In the two years since, a moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, won elections and has governed in a coalition with two secular parties.
But the ruling coalition's failure to stem the country's economic crisis and stop the often-violent rise of hardline Salafi Muslims have drawn fierce criticism, especially from staunch secularists such as Belaid. He had also accused Ennahda of backing some of the political violence through its own goon squads.
Belaid was shot dead while in his car outside his home by an unknown assailant. Hours after his killing Wednesday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he would form a new, technocratic government to guide the country to elections. But Ennahda, his own party, rejected that idea soon afterward.
Late Friday, Mr. Jebali renewed his proposal for a new government, which would be a key concession to the country's opposition. "I am convinced this is the best solution for the current situation in Tunisia," he said, offering to resign if the elected assembly did not accept his new proposed Cabinet.
For many Tunisians, especially the youth, the political wrangling is especially frustrating because it distracts from the country's economic problems.
As Belaid was being buried, the black smoke of burning cars mingled with clouds of white tear gas, as masked and hooded youths brandishing machetes and clubs threw rocks at riot police nearby.
Khaled Tarrouch, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said 132 people were arrested and around a dozen cars set afire. He said those arrested were being questioned to see if a particular person or group was behind the violence.
Leaders in the ruling coalition say they will meet over the next few days with representatives of all parties to forge compromises and start addressing Tunisia's pressing problems.
First Published February 9, 2013 12:22 am