Bosnia police use tear gas against protesting workers

AFP, Thursday 6 Feb 2014

More than 30 people were injured after police used tear gas and clashed with Bosnian demonstrators angry over the dire economic situation in a country where unemployment tops more than 44 percent, officials said.

In total, 32 people were hurt, including two policeman who were seriously injured during scuffles in the northeastern town of Tuzla, once one of the main industrial hubs in the former Yugoslav republic.

Thousands of demonstrators had gathered -- more than 2,000 according to police, while local media said there were 6,000 -- for a second day of protest against Bosnia's economic woes.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds as demonstrators tried to break into regional government offices in Tuzla and threw stones.

Tuzla police spokesman Izudin Saric told AFP that "26 policeman, two of them seriously, and six protestors were injured".

Eight protestors were arrested, Saric said.

It followed protests the previous day. On Wednesday, 14 people, mostly policemen, were also injured in Tuzla, while 22 people were arrested.

Most were released Thursday, while three remained in custody.

Protesters accuse the authorities of fraudulently privatising a number of factories once owned by the state and demand payment of salaries, which they claim have been delayed for months.

Workers were joined by unemployed and young people, many of whom said they had no future in Bosnia.

"I am 28 years old and I have been unemployed for more than ten years. I cannot feed my children," one of the protestors said.

Sakib Kopic, one of the workers' representatives, said the protests were a "revolution, the answer of people" to the authorities' failure to address the ongoing economic downfall.

"Protestors are not savages, there are many young people who have no hope of getting a job after graduating," Kopic said.

There were also protests on Thursday in the capital Sarajevo and several other towns in the Muslim-Croat federation, one of the two entities that make up post-war Bosnia.

Federation's Prime Minister Nermin Niksic has called for an emergency session of his cabinet late Thursday to access the security situation in the towns hit by protests.

In Sarajevo, about hundred people threw eggs and stones on government buildings, shouting "Thieves!" and "Murderers!" before anti-riot police moved to disperse them.

The unemployment rate in Bosnia, a Balkan country of 3.8 million people, is more than 44 percent.

Although official data show that 27.5 percent of its working population is unemployed, at least another 20 percent of people are estimated to be engaged in so-called grey economy.

An average salary in Bosnia is 420 euros ($571), but one of five of its citizens live under the poverty line, official data showed.

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