Tear gas and water cannon used to disperse Bosnia protests

Rubber bullets also used in Sarajevo amid demonstrations over unemployment and political inertia

A protester stands near a fire set in front of a government building in Tuzla today as Bosnians protest over job shortages and political inertia. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters.

A protester stands near a fire set in front of a government building in Tuzla today as Bosnians protest over job shortages and political inertia. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters.

Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 15:44

Protesters in Bosnia set fire to government buildings and fought with riot police today as anger over unemployment and political inertia fuelled a third day of the civil unrest, the worst seen in the country since its 1990s war.

Tear gas and smoke blanketed downtown Sarajevo, where police opened fire with rubber bullets on several thousand protesters who set fire to the headquarters of the capital’s cantonal government. Water cannon was used to disperse protesters who were trying to enter the presidency building in the city.

In the northern town of Tuzla, protests over factory closures turned violent for a third day. Demonstrators stoned and torched the seat of the local authority and clashed with police. Trapped by the flames, some leapt from windows, a Reuters photographer said.

A government building in the central town of Zenica was also set alight, local media reported. Protesters, many of whom heeded calls on Facebook to take to the streets, chanted “Thieves!” and “Revolution!”

Starting on Wednesday in Tuzla, once the industrial heart of northern Bosnia, small protests have spread to towns and cities across the impoverished former Yugoslav republic, where more than one in four of the workforce are jobless.

The civil unrest is unprecedented in postwar Bosnia, where Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks have tolerated political stagnation for years rather than risk a return to conflict.

Bosnia’s recovery has been held hostage to an unwieldy power-sharing system based on ethnic quotas set in the US-brokered peace deal that ended the war, in which an estimated 100,000 people died.

Ethnic politicking has stymied governance and left the country trailing its ex-Yugoslav peers on the road to membership of the European Union, which neighbouring Croatia joined last year.

The government of Bosnia’s autonomous Federation, made up mainly of Croats and Bosniaks, held an emergency session and called on protesters to negotiate.

At least eight people were injured in Tuzla, police said, including two police officers, one of them seriously.

“As long as there are ethnic divisions, deeply rooted corruption and nepotism there will be no solution for this society,” political analyst Gojko Beric said.

Agencies