Tunisian Prepare for Funeral as Strike Call Widens Rift

Strikes called to mark the funeral of a murdered senior opposition leader are set to begin in Tunisia as continuing unrest and a rift in the ruling Ennahda party threatened to create a political vacuum.

The General Union of Tunisian Workers called on its members to strike today. Protests by lawyers, judges and some teachers began yesterday. The funeral of Democratic Patriots leader Chukri Beleid is set to start in Tunis at noon local time, when a military vehicle will carry his body from his home to the Jalaz cemetery.

Accusations from Beleid’s widow and other secularists that the moderate Islamist Ennahda played a role in the killing came amid the greatest unrest in Tunisia since rallies sparked the Arab Spring two years ago. Clashes between security forces and protesters left one policeman dead, while opposition secular parties withdrew from the government and Prime Minister Hamadi Jbeli vowed to form a Cabinet of technocrats, a plan rejected by his own party.

“In the likely event there is no agreement, civil unrest will increase, reaching a level that cannot be contained by the police,” Abi Ali, an analyst at London-based Exclusive Analysis said in an e-mailed note.

Jebli acted unilaterally in deciding to create a technocratic government, Ennahda spokesman Abdelhamid Jlasi said yesterday.

‘Constitutional Void’

The rift within Ennahda over the proposal “may lead to a constitutional void, especially considering the demand of some parties to dissolve the Constituent Assembly,” Salem Labyad, a professor at the University of Tunis said in an interview.

Beleid’s widow, Besma Khalfaoui said yesterday that she held Ennahda, “with its fascist and democratic branches” responsible for his death, a charge the party denied. She said her husband had asked police for protection. Beleid, a lawyer, had repeatedly criticized the Islamist government and radical religious groups.

Jbeli and secular president, Moncef Marzouki, condemned the assassination, urging Tunisians not to be dragged into violence.

Beleid’s murder came after a Salafi cleric said in a video posted on the internet that his head, and that of Ahmed Najib Chebbi, another top opposition party figure, were “wanted.”

Tunisia, which has yet to adopt a new charter, is in talks for a $1.78 billion International Monetary Fund stand-by arrangement to help buttress its economy.

Hussein Abbasi, secretary general of the Tunisian labor union organizing today’s strike, received a death threat yesterday on his mobile phone, union spokesman Sami Tahiri said.

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