Tuesday 20 February 2018

Police accused as Bosnia hit by worst social unrest since war

An anti-government protester at police lines in Sarajevo
An anti-government protester at police lines in Sarajevo
Anti-government protesters in Sarajevo

Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo

HUNDREDS of people marched in Sarajevo yesterday to accuse police of mistreating recently arrested protesters and demand their release.

For the fourth day in a row, the demonstrators also called on the government to resign because of the nation's almost 40pc unemployment rate and alleged widespread corruption.

The head of the local police station, Mirsad Sukic, told the crowd in front of his building that none of the 44 people who had been taken into custody had been mistreated or were minors. He said all but 10 had since been freed.

But 17-year-old Harun Cehajic, who claimed he was one of the freed protesters, said he and others had been beaten in the basement of the police station and not allowed to sleep for 26 hours. More than 300 people were injured in the past four days during the worst social unrest Bosnia has seen since its devastating war.

On Friday, protesters set fire to the president's office and 17 other government buildings in several cities.

Local governments in four cities, including Sarajevo, resigned amid the unrest, one mayor fled the country and politicians appeared on TV acknowledging mistakes and promised to change before general elections in October.

But ordinary Bosnians have plenty of reasons to be sceptical about the promises.

The privatisation that followed the 1992-95 war decimated the middle class and sent the working class into poverty as a few tycoons flourished.

Corruption is widespread and high taxes for the country's bloated public sector eat away at residents' paychecks.

Bickering among politicians along ethnic lines means very little functions smoothly and has also hampered the country's ambitions of one day joining the European Union.

The violence started early this week in the northern city of Tuzla, a former industrial centre, where thousands of factory workers vented their fury over the dubious privatisation that left them without jobs.

Images of police beating and arresting members of the crowd prompted protests in over 20 cities.

The prime minister of neighbouring Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, met with Bosnia's Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda in the city of Mostar.

Mr Milanovic urged the European Union to help Bosnia with its problems and speed up its efforts to become a member of the bloc.

Irish Independent

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