Last updated: 27 July, 2013

Thousands escort body of slain Tunisia opposition leader

Protests against Tunisia’s Islamist-led government erupted Saturday as thousands thronged the streets of the capital for the funeral of an assassinated leftist opposition leader, the second such murder since February.

Demonstrators calling for the fall of the government marched on the National Assembly in central Tunis and clashed with riot police who fired tear-gas to disperse them, an AFP correspondent said, adding that an opposition MP was injured by a blow to the head.

Mohamed Brahmi was shot dead Thursday outside his home in a Tunis suburb, and authorities said he was killed with the same gun used in the murder of leftist politician Chokri Belaid in February.

Brahmi’s coffin, draped in the red-white Tunisian flag, was saluted by soldiers when the cortege left from his home toward El-Jellaz cemetery.

Emotions ran high as supporters of Brahmi, including family members, lifted the coffin to their shoulders before placing it on a military vehicle under armed escort.

A military helicopter overflew the capital as flags fluttered among the crowd waiting for the funeral procession along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 Arab Spring born in Tunisia.

Slogans vowing they will “avenge” Brahmi rose from the sea of mourners.

Police deployed reinforcements for the funeral attended by some 10,000 mourners, according to official estimates. Journalists gave a higher number of 15,000-20,000.

“Allahu akbar! (God is greatest). There is no God but Allah and martyrdom is his friend,” mourners cried out at the cemetery.

Army chief of staff General Mohamed Salah Hamdi read the eulogy and an imam prayed, but there were no representatives from the ruling Islamist Ennahda party which the family blames for Brahmi’s murder.

His widow Mbarka, who wore a headscarf, made the V-for-victory sign.

“The people want the fall of the regime,” and “Ennahda terrorist gang,” the crowd shouted, before falling silent for the national anthem.

The coffin was then lowered into a grave in the “martyrs'” sector of the cemetery next to that of Belaid, in accordance with his wishes.

Brahmi, 58, was killed with the same weapon used to gun down Belaid, Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said on Friday.

The state prosecutor’s office said an autopsy found Brahmi had been hit by 14 bullets and authorities blamed extremists with links to Al-Qaeda.

His murder has stoked tensions in Tunisia where many blame the government of failing to rein in radical Islamists accused of a wave of attacks since the regime of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in a popular uprising in 2011.

After the funeral, youths and other protesters demanding “the fall of the government today!” marched to the National Assembly intent on staging a sit-in.

Protesters hurled rocks and other projectiles at anti-riot police who dispersed them with tear-gas and far-left MP Mongi Rahaoui was struck on the head with a club and rushed to hospital.

Khemaies Ksila, an MP from the opposition Nidaa Tounes party, said police brutally barred demonstrators from setting up a protest tent outside parliament.

“This will not discourage us. We are determined, this government must go,” Ksila told AFP.

On Friday night, 42 opposition MPs announced they were pulling out of the assembly, demanding parliament be dissolved and a government of national unity set up.

Hours before the funeral, a bomb exploded near a police post in the port of Tunis on Saturday, damaging a police jeep but causing no injuries, the interior ministry said.

A resident said the blast, the first known attack of its kind against a military vehicle in Tunisia, slightly wounded a policeman and caused panic among some residents of La Goulette district.

The bombing came a day after a general strike called by the powerful General Union of Tunisian Labour (UGTT) and an anti-government demonstration during which one person was killed.

Brahmi was an MP with the leftist and nationalist Popular Movement but on July 7 quit the party he founded, saying it had been infiltrated by Islamists.

His daughter Balkis, 19, one of five siblings, told AFP he had been killed by two men in black on a motorbike.

Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi, with his movement accused of connivance in the two political killings over the past six months, has said Brahmi’s murder was a “catastrophe” for Tunisia and that those responsible wanted to stir civil war.

The UN human rights office has urged official restraint in the face of public anger.