Protesters, police clash over factory closures in Bosnian town

Reuters , Wednesday 5 Feb 2014

A protester stands near burning car tires during a protest in front of local government building in the Bosnian town of Tuzla, 140 kms north of Sarajevo, on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Twenty-two people, including 17 police officers, were injured and 24 arrested when protesters in the northern Bosnian town of Tuzla clashed with police on Wednesday over the closure of local factories and firms.

The incident pointed to deepening social unease over the state of the Bosnian economy and the political inertia in the country almost two decades since the end of its 1992-95 war.

Years of ethnic politicking between former warring sides - Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks - has stifled economic development and progress towards integration with the European Union.

Around 600 people tried to storm the building of the Tuzla local government, accusing authorities of turning a blind eye to the collapse of a number of state firms after their privatisation.

Protesters joined by local soccer fans stoned the windows of the building and set tires on fire, blocking traffic in the city centre, a police spokesman said. Police eventually forced them back and cordoned off the building.

Eleven vehicles, most of them belonging to the police and government, were damaged, police spokesman Izudin Saric said.

"This is the start of the Bosnian spring," protester Sakib Kopic told Bosnian state radio, alluding to the wave of popular protests that shook the Arab world from 2011. "No political party is behind this protest, just the people."

At 27.5 percent, Bosnia's unemployment rate is the highest in the Balkans.

Saric said 22 people were treated mainly for minor injuries, but that two police officers sustained fractures.

Tuzla is the third largest city in the former Yugoslav republic and the industrial heart of the north. But many of its once thriving chemical factories halted production after being privatised, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs.

"We wanted to talk to the government about restarting production, about the payment of our wage arrears, but nobody ever showed up," Hrustan Muminovic, one of the protesting workers, told the regional television.

Muminovic said employers owed workers like him 27 months of wages. The Tuzla government issued a statement saying it was ready to talk to the workers but that the protesters had been unable to come up with a suitable delegation.

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