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Tunisian politician's funeral leads to protest, clashes

TUNIS, Tunisia -- The funeral of an assassinated leftist politician drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans to the capital yesterday -- as well as gangs of armed youths who smashed cars and clashed with police just outside the cemetery.

Hours later, the prime minister insisted he'd try to form a government despite his own party's opposition, threatening to resign if his proposal wasn't accepted.

The events 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.

People from across the nation flowed into Tunis to lay to rest Chokri Belaid, 48, a lawyer and top figure in the Popular Front alliance who was shot dead Wednesday.

The funeral "was one of the most impressive in the history of Tunisia," historian Slahhedine Jourchi said, as demonstrators marched and chanted against the ruling Islamists.

Hamma Hammami of the Tunisian Workers Party gave a eulogy as Belaid's friends and relatives wept. "Sleep well Chokri. We will continue the fight," the leftist leader promised as the acrid smell of tear gas from the clashes near the cemetery invaded the air.

Belaid was shot while in his car outside his home by an unknown assailant.

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