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Mourners, protesters unite in Tunisia, call for 'a new revolution'

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
REUTERS
Tunisian soldiers and mourners carry the coffin of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in Tunis on Friday, Feb. 8. REUTERS

TUNIS — The slain Tunisian opposition leader's coffin was driven through rain-swept streets lined with soldiers and crammed with mourners who chanted against the Islamist-led government and marched with placards through the heart of this troubled capital.

Chokri Belaid's funeral procession moved slowly through neighborhoods Friday while his compatriots clashed with police and demonstrated by the tens of thousands on the third day of unrest that has sharpened political divisions in the birthplace of the “Arab Spring.”

The assassination of Belaid, a fiery leftist who was shot Wednesday, roused this economically beleaguered nation and ignited fresh furor by secular liberals against the dominant Islamist party, Ennahda. Tunisia had been a model for countries emerging from a region in upheaval, but rising radical Islamist voices have chilled its transition to democracy.

Mourners in Tunis swelled through streets and boulevards, singing the national anthem. Youths hurled stones at police near the Interior Ministry, and security forces fired tear gas around the funeral procession to chase off hooligans attempting to steal and destroy cars near the cemetery. Several vehicles were set ablaze.

Protesters strained to get a glimpse of the flag-draped coffin as it was carried through a sea of weeping, angry faces. Posters of Belaid were held aloft as cameras flashed, and images spilled immediately onto Twitter and other social media. It was the largest funeral in the country since the death of Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourguiba, in 2000.

“The people want a new revolution,” mourners chanted along the funeral procession.

Thousands protested in towns and cities across the provinces. The first general strike in three decades kept businesses closed, and political leaders appeared at an impasse. Ennahda had rejected a plan by its prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, to defuse the tension by naming a new, nonpartisan cabinet.

“This funeral is a historic event and unique in Tunisia,” said Mohamed Kerrou, a university political science professor. “The number of mourners shows national unity and solidarity. The only solution now is for an investigation. The government must leave power since they cannot ensure security.”

No one has claimed responsibility for Belaid's death, carried out by a lone gunman who reportedly escaped on a motorcycle.

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