Tunisian pro-government supporters hold massive rally

Protesters hurled insults at France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in the North African country`s politics.

Updated: Feb 09, 2013, 21:43 PM IST

Tunis: Several thousand supporters of Tunisia`s ruling moderate Islamist party rallied in the capital on Saturday in a pro-government demonstration, a day after the funeral of an assassinated opposition politician.

Protesters hurled insults at France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in the North African country`s politics.

The ruling Ennahda party had called for a show of support for the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback after the killing of Chokri Belaid on February 6 when leftist parties withdrew their participation.

It said the demonstration would also protest "French interference" after comments earlier in the 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 their 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, won elections and has governed in a coalition with two secular parties.

Protesters denounced Valls` remarks, claiming they showed that France was interfering in Tunisia`s internal affairs.

Demonstrators gathered in front of the National Theatre on Tunis` main boulevard, waving flags of the Ennahda party and shouting "Get out, France".

The funeral for Belaid yesterday had drawn thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans into the capital`s heavily policed streets.

Valls had said on Europe 1 radio 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".

Valls was clearly pointing the finger at Salafists who, with their strict interpretation of Islam, have come to the fore and are seen as having smeared Ennahda`s moderate image.

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.

Hours after Belaid`s killing Wednesday, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said he would form a new, technocratic government to guide the country to elections. But Ennahda, his own party, has rejected that idea.