TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Several thousand supporters of Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party held a pro-government demonstration in the capital on Saturday, a day after the funeral of an assassinated opposition politician.
But outside Tunis, groups of youths threw stones at offices of the governing party and attacked police stations in several cities.
The Interior Ministry said 230 people, aged 16 to 25, have been arrested since Friday, the day Chokri Belaid was buried. The slaying of the respected opposition figure unleashed anger, and his funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans in Tunis.
Saturday was the third straight day of reports of unrest in this North African country, which overthrew its 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, has won elections and governed in a coalition with two secular parties. However, there are growing signs of divisions within the party, made more visible after Belaid's killing.
It is not known who killed Belaid, but the assassination unleashed pockets of pillaging and unrest on Saturday, including an attack by some 80 youths armed with stones and clubs on a police station and a second security post in Zaghouan, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Tunis, the official TAP news agency reported. To the south, in the town of Kebili, some 60 people, mainly youths, attacked the governing Ennahda party offices. The extent of that damage was not immediately known.
Meanwhile, several thousand supporters of Ennahda held a pro-government demonstration in the capital on Saturday. The protesters also insulted France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in the North African country's politics.
The Ennahda party had called for the show of support for the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback after the killing of Belaid on Wednesday when the opposition withdrew its participation.
The Ennahda party said Saturday's rally also was meant to protest "French interference," a reference to French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who this week denounced Belaid's killing as an attack on "the values of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution."
The protesters denounced Valls' remarks, claiming they showed France is interfering in Tunisia's internal affairs. The demonstrators gathered in front of the National Theater, waving flags of the Ennahda party and shouting "Get out, France!"
The main thoroughfare was bustling, with cafes full and shops reopened after a general strike Friday. Police in riot armor and plainclothes officers patrolled, but the protest was peaceful — in contrast to the aftermath of Friday's funeral when police fired tear gas amid running street battles in Tunis.
Valls said on Europe 1 radio 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 referring to 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 Saturday's demonstration, which took place near the well-guarded French Embassy.
Fathi Rhayem, a teacher, said the demonstration "shows the Tunisian peoples' desire to show that it is sovereign, it is independent and is no longer under French protection." He said, "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."
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 was shot to death in his car outside his home. Hours later, 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.
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," he said, offering to resign if the elected assembly did not accept his proposed Cabinet.
Jebali said he was confident he could get Ennahda's support, but his party's rejection of the proposal exposed its own divisions between moderates and hardliners, and it remained unclear how the prime minister planned to win enough support.
The coalition's failure to stem the country's economic crisis and stop the often-violent rise of hardline Salafi Muslims has drawn fierce criticism, especially from staunch secularists such as the late Belaid.
- Politics & Government
- Unrest, Conflicts & War