Violent protests spread throughout Bosnia

AMEL EMRIC Associated Press Published:

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- Bosnian protesters stormed and set ablaze local government buildings in three Bosnian cities on Friday in fury over unemployment and rampant corruption. At least 90 people were injured.

The anti-government protests that began earlier in the week in the northern city of Tuzla spread throughout Bosnia, with thousands taking their discontent over the almost 40 percent unemployment rate onto the streets of a dozen cities.

In Tuzla, the crowd stormed the local government building, throwing furniture, files and papers out of the windows and then setting the building on fire.

Protesters also set local government buildings ablaze in Sarajevo and Zenica, and the building of the Bosnian Presidency was also burning. Those fires were promptly put out but almost all the windows were broken.

At least 80 people were injured in Sarajevo and 10 in Zenica, authorities said. There were no immediate casualty figures from Tuzla, where the worst of the fighting was.

In an unprecedented move, hundreds gathered in the capital of the Bosnian Serb part of the country, Banja Luka, to express support for protesters in the country's other ministate, which is shared by Bosniaks and Croats.

"We gathered to support the protests in Tuzla where people are fighting for their rights," said Aleksandar Zolja, an activist from Banja Luka.

The protests began with a clash between police and unpaid workers of four former state-owned companies, which left some some 130 hurt, mostly from tear gas.

The four companies employed most of the population of Tuzla. When they were privatized, contracts obliged the new owners to invest in them and make them profitable but they sold the assets, stopped paying workers and filed for bankruptcy.

Bosnians have many reasons to be unhappy as general elections approach in October. Beside the unemployment rate, the privatization that followed the end of communism and the 1992-95 war produced a handful of tycoons, almost wiped out the middle class and sent the working class into poverty. Corruption is widespread and high taxes to fund a bloated public sector eat away at paychecks.