Bosnian protesters set a regional government building ablaze and clashes injured dozens of people in a third day of demonstrations over graft and unpaid wages.
The government deployed special police forces across Bosnia and in the capital, Sarajevo. Units dispersed protesters throwing rocks and bottles in front of government offices with tear gas and rubber bullets, website b92.net reported. About 120 kilometers (75 miles) north in Tuzla, 13 protesters and 49 police were injured, police spokesman Izudin Saric said.
In an echo of anti-government rallies in Ukraine that turned deadly when protesters stormed government buildings last month, Bosnian protesters unsuccessfully tried to take over the Tuzla court. They then set the regional government offices and the city municipal headquarters on fire, Saric said by phone.
“Firefighters are trying to extinguish the flame, but it’s not going to happen soon,” Saric said, adding that protesters attacked officers with hydrochloric acid and lime. “They filled bottles with the mixture and threw them at police.”
Bosnia-Herzegovina, the hardest hit during the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia, remains ethnically divided between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Its economy is forecast to grow 2 percent in 2014 after a projected 0.8 percent last year, according to a November International Monetary Fund report.
Workers from formerly state-owned companies began protesting on Wednesday in Tuzla, a town of 120,000 people, and demonstrations spread to the nearby industrial towns of Zenica and Bihac.
Employed at salt company Dita d.d., wood processor Konjuh d.d. and chemical product makers Guming d.d., Polihem d.d. and Poliolchem d.d., they want payment of back wages and benefits after their companies were sold to private investors and went bankrupt.
“Our demands are to save the companies that can be saved, to pay past years of service to workers in companies that cannot be saved, and that wages to ministers in the Tuzla government are reduced,” Denisa Ceramovic, a local social worker from Tuzla, told TV broadcaster Slon.
Union leader Dzevad Mehmedovic said workers at Dita hadn’t been paid in 26 months, according to news portal www.starmo.ba. At 28 percent of the workforce, unemployment in mineral-rich Bosnia is the highest among former Yugoslavia’s republics.
The government said it was open to discuss demands and it would pursue anyone who unlawfully profited from an improper sale of state assets, saying in a statement on its website that it was necessary to “determine responsibility and punish those responsible for privatization theft and corporate crime.”