Thousands at funeral of Tunisian opposition leader: AFP

Thousands of people massed on Friday in the Tunisian capital to take part in the funeral of murdered opposition leader Chokri Belaid, due to take place early afternoon, AFP journalists reported.

The growing crowd of around 3,000 mourners gathered outside a public building in the Tunis district of Djebel Jelloud, where Belaid's coffin lay covered in flowers.

The funeral procession is due to make its way to the nearby cemetery of El-Jellaz where Belaid, who was shot dead outside his home on Wednesday by a lone gunman, is to be buried.

"With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," shouted the mourners, who included some prominent politicians, while also chanting slogans denouncing the ruling Islamist Ennahda party as "assassins".

There was a chaotic and emotional atmosphere, with one of Belaid's daughters fainting in tears.

"We lost a great hero," Beji Caid Essebsi, a centre-right opposition leader and former premier, told AFP

But he sounded an optimistic note, despite the deepening political crisis and the violence that has rocked the country since Wednesday, saying: "We must never fear the worst".

Tens of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets for Belaid's burial after weekly prayers in the Muslim country, whose long-established secular tradition has been countered by the rise of one of the region's most powerful Islamist parties.