Bosnians Demand Government Resign as Early Ballot Looms

Bosnian demonstrators in the mostly Muslim part of the divided country demanded the resignation of their federal government and said they’d push on with protests a day after authorities agreed to call early elections.

Demonstrators gathered in the capital, Sarajevo, and other towns, according to state BHRT TV. The Sarajevo-based Bosnian Federation government, half of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s dual ruling system, called for an early ballot yesterday after hundreds of people were hurt in protests in the ex-Yugoslav republic’s worst violence since 1995. No date was set, as the Federation government said it needed to amend the constitution.

“Demonstrations will continue today,” Zoran Ivancic, one of protest organizers, said by phone from Sarajevo. “They will continue every day until our requests are met, which primarily means the resignation of the central government.”

Hardest-hit during the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Bosnia-Herzegovina lags former partners Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, which have achieved membership or candidate status in the European Union. The dual government splits the country of 3.8 million largely along ethnic lines between the mostly Muslim Federation and a Serbian part, hampering growth and keeping economic output at less than a third of the EU’s.

Stepping Down

The Federation government called for an early election after rallies that included activists attacking police with acid and the torching of government buildings last week. Angry over graft and unpaid wages, protesters want a new government to replace a fractious mix of parties that now hold power.

“We are ready to cede the power to anyone legitimate,” Prime Minister Nermin Niksic told reporters in Sarajevo last night. “But it needs to be clear who will take over.”

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s parliamentary assembly called for calm yesterday and the U.S. condemned the violence, as did the EU. The bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule announced they would visit Bosnia, according to Croatian public broadcaster.

“What happened is a wake-up call to the European Union and to the international community,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday in Brussels. “We need to focus more effort on helping Bosnia toward the European Union, toward NATO membership, so that the stagnation in Bosnian politics and governments can come to an end.”

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