Slain Tunisian leader's funeral marred by clash
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The funeral of a slain Tunisian opposition leader was marred Friday by clashes between police and gangs of young men attempting to steal mourners' cars, as black smoke spiraled from burning vehicles into the sky and clouds of tear gas floated over the nearby cemetery.
Tens of thousands of Tunisians chanting anti-government slogans converged on the Jellaz cemetery for the funeral of Chokri Belaid, a left-wing politician whose assassination Wednesday outside his home has exacerbated Tunisia's political crisis and escalated tensions in the North African nation that helped kick off the Arab Spring.
Belaid's funeral procession passed into the cemetery amid a scene of chaos caught live on television. Gangs of young men threw rocks at police trying to stop them stealing cars, and police responded with tear gas. TV images showed the youths pushing cars into the street, and the cars bursting into flame.
Witnesses described the young men in tracksuits _ many armed with clubs and machetes _ as hooligans seeking to take advantage of the turmoil surrounding the funeral.
The murder of Belaid, a harsh critic of the Islamist government, sparked days of rioting by his supporters, who hold the ruling Ennahda party complicit in his death. The nation was largely shut down due to a general strike called by the labor unions in solidarity, and the national carrier Tunis Air canceled all its flights.
Once the standard bearer in the region for its political consensus, the Tunisia's transition to democracy since the 2011 ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been shaken by a sour economy and political turmoil pitting the country's governing Islamists against secular parties, sometimes violently.
Efforts to stem the country's worst crisis since the revolution have so far failed and the anti-government sentiment at the cemetery was palpable. Before the body arrived, there was a brief scuffle when officials identified as being with the governing coalition were stopped by the crowd from entering.
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