SEVERAL thousand supporters of Tunisia’s ruling moderate Islamist party rallied in the capital yesterday in a show of strength, a day after the funeral of an opposition politician gunned down at his home.
Protesters hurled insults at France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering.
The ruling Ennahda party had called for people to turn out in support of the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a setback after the killing of Chokri Belaid, 48, on Wednesday – when left-wing parties withdrew in disgust.
It said the demonstration would also show how Tunisians felt about “French interference” after comments last week by French interior minister Manuel Valls, who denounced Belaid’s killing as an attack on “the values of Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution”.
Tunisians overthrew the autocratic but secularist president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, sparking the Arab Spring revolutions. In the two years since, Ennahda has won elections and governed in coalition with secular parties.
Protesters denounced Valls’ remarks, claiming they showed France was meddling. Demonstrators gathered in front of the National Theatre on Tunis’ main boulevard, waving Ennahda flags and shouting “Get out, France”.
The thoroughfare was bustling, with cafés full and shops reopened after a general strike on Friday called in sympathy for Belaid. Police, in riot gear and plain-clothes, patrolled but gone were the tear gas and running battles seen last week after Belaid’s murder.
His funeral on Friday drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans.
Valls said 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 pointing the finger at Salafists, Islamic fundamentalists. At least one black Salafi flag was spotted in the sea of white Ennahda flags at the demonstration near the French embassy yesterday.
Hours after Belaid’s killing, prime minister Hamadi Jebali said he would form a new, technocratic government to prepare for elections – but Ennahda, his own party, quickly rejected that plan.