Thousands of pro-government supporters rallied in the streets of the Tunisian capital Saturday, shouting anti-French slogans and accusing its former colonial ruler of interference, a day after the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid.
Several thousand supporters of Tunisia’s ruling moderate Islamist party rallied in the capital in a pro-government demonstration on February 9, a day after the funeral of an assassinated opposition politician. Protesters hurled insults at France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in the North African country’s politics.
The ruling Ennahda party had called for a show of support for the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback after the killing of Chokri Belaid on Feb. 6 - when leftist parties withdrew their participation. It said the demonstration would also protest “French interference” after comments earlier in the week by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who denounced Belaid’s killing as an attack on “the values of Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution.”
Tensions rise as Tunisian PM threatens to quit
Tunisia’s Islamist prime minister says he will resign if his proposal to appoint a nonpolitical Cabinet is rejected.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali called for that change on Wednesday after Tunisia was thrown into a crisis when a prominent opposition politician was shot and killed in Tunis, touching off violent protests.
Jebali’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party has already rejected his proposal.
On Saturday, Jebali told FRANCE 24 that he’ll appoint a new Cabinet by mid-week. He said new independent ministers are needed to save Tunisia from “chaos.”
Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, kicking off the Arab Spring revolutions. In the two years since, Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won elections and has governed in a coalition with two secular parties.
Protesters denounced Valls’ remarks, claiming they showed that France is interfering in Tunisia’s internal affairs. Demonstrators gathered in front of the National Theater on Tunis’ main street, Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 revolution that toppled ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, close to the French embassy.
"Get out, France"
Waving flags of the Ennahda party they shouted “Get out, France.”
"Enough, France! Tunisia will never again be a French colony," proclaimed some of the banners waved by protesters.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Tunis, Alexander Turnbull, said the protest was not large and mainly made up of men. “They’re all waving flags and chanting. They’re saying they want to preserve the heritage of the revolution and organise a second one, which is according to them the only way to find a solution to the current political crisis,” he said.
The thoroughfare was bustling, with cafes full and shops reopened after a general strike the previous day. Police in riot armor and plainclothes officers patrolled Saturday, but gone were the tear gas and running street battles.
Friday’s funeral for Belaid drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans into the capital’s heavily policed streets.
Valls had said on Europe 1 radio on Thursday that Belaid was “one of the democrats and we must support these democrats so that the values of the Jasmine Revolution are not betrayed. There is an Islamic fascism rising everywhere, but this obscurantism must, of course, be condemned because it denies the democracy for which the Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian people have fought.”
Valls was clearly pointing the finger at Salafists, with their strict interpretation of Islam, who have come to the fore, and smeared Ennahda’s moderate image. At least one black Salafi flag was spotted in the sea of white Ennahda flags at the demonstration, which took place several hundred meters from the well-guarded French Embassy.
In Pictures: Unrest at opposition leader's funeral
Tunisian security forces arrested a young man near the cemetery where assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid was buried on Friday. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
At least 40,000 people turned out for Belaid’s funeral. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Thousands of mourners cried out “Allah Akbar” (“God is great”) during the ceremony and sang Tunisia’s national anthem. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Breaking with Muslim tradition, hundreds of women entered the cemetery to pay homage to Belaid, who was a staunch defender of women’s rights. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
The funeral scene was chaotic, with a helicopter constantly circling overhead. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Black smoke caused by tear gas billowed from a building near the cemetery’s entrance. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Crowds of people fled as police fired tear gas after thugs set fire to cars and threw stones at security forces. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
A Tunisian man held up a tear gas canister. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Interior ministry spokesperson Khaled Tarrouche said that at least 132 people had been arrested after clashes broke out between protesters and security forces near the cemetery and in downtown Tunis. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Security forces finally regained control of the situation in the afternoon, but dozens of cars were destroyed near the cemetery. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Fathi Rhayem, a teacher, said the demonstration “shows the Tunisian people’s desire to show that it is sovereign, it is independent and is no longer under French protection.”
“We want to show that we want to live on equal terms with France, as friends with reciprocal interests but not like a dominant and a dominated. The policy of submission ... is finished now,” Rhayem said, reflecting the mindset of the new Tunisia just over two years after it overthrew its autocratic ruler.
The events have 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’s been a perilous stretch for a country many hoped would be a model for other post-revolutionary Arab states.
Belaid, who in his car outside his home, was shot dead while 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.
IN PICTURES: FUNERAL OF SLAIN TUNISIAN OPPOSITION LEADER
Thousands of protestors took to the Tunisian streets as funeral services for assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid got underway. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Chokri Belaid's coffin moves through the grieving crowds gathered to pay respects. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
FRANCE 24 photojournalist, Mehdi Chebil, says many young Tunisians are angry, with chants of "Ghannouchi - assassin!" frequently heard through the streets. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Thousands of mourners escort the fallen leader's coffin through the streets of Tunis. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
As during the revolution of 2011, Tunisians are wary of police and military officers as security tightens throughout the Tunisian capital. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Many women attended the funeral service, a rare sight in Tunisia. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Tunisian secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid was murdered on February 6 by masked gunmen outside of his Tunis home, in an act that sparked protests across the country. Supporters joined his family in mourning on February 9. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Visitors paid respect to Belaid’s family at the home of the slain leader's father, seated on the far right and wearing a red fez. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Belaid has quickly become a symbol of the struggle for democracy for the Tunisian opposition. Members of his left-wing Movement of Democratic Patriots Party and supporters have started brandishing arm bands with Belaid's portrait. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Family members mourned Belaid on Thursday, on the eve of a mass strike and protest set to coincide with his funeral. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Belaid's widow, Basma Khalfaoui, is a trained lawyer and a member of his left-wing party. She has accused the Islamist-led government of complicity in her husband's murder. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Abdel Majid Belaid, the fallen leader's brother, is also a member of the Movement of Democratic Patriots Party. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
A portrait of the Tunisian union leader and independence hero Farhat Hached hangs in the Belaid family home. Hached was himself the victim of a political assassination in 1952. © Photo: Mehdi Chebil / France 24
Late Friday, 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,” Jebali said, offering to resign if the elected assembly did not accept his proposed Cabinet.
Although Jebali said he was confident he could get Ennahda’s support, his party’s earlier rejection of the proposal exposed its own divisions between moderates and hardliners, and it remained unclear how the prime minister planned to pull enough support to his side.
But the 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.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-02-09