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Balkans

Bosnian anti-corruption protests spread to Sarajevo

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Bosnia. They are demonstrating in support of laid off workers in the northern town of Tuzla.

After outlasting a volley of tear gas by police reinforced with special dog units on Thursday, protesters surrounded an empty government building in the city of Tuzla - northern Bosnia's former industrial heart - and set tires and trash on fire.

The protests, which began Tuesday, have come in response to an ongoing dispute involving four former state-owned companies that filed for bankruptcy shortly after privatization, leaving scores jobless.

The leader of the Tuzla region, Sead Causevic, told Bosnian state TV that the "rip-off privatization" had already taken place when his government took power and called the workers' demands legitimate.

The four former state-owned companies, which included furniture and washing powder factories, employed most of the population of Tuzla. Contracts had obliged their new owners after privatization to invest in the companies and make them profitable.

The new owners sold the assets, stopped paying workers and filed for bankruptcy between 2000 and 2008. Causevic blamed the courts for obstructing justice, saying the workers had turned to the law years ago, but no judgment had ever come.

Eggs versus gas

The demonstrations have reached Zenica, Mostar, Bihac and the capital, Sarajevo. Protests in the capital saw hundreds of demonstrators, some of whom threw eggs at the local government building.

On Thursday, more than a dozen people sought medical help in Tuzla, mostly from the effects of the tear gas police had used. Residents of buildings yelled insults and threw buckets of water at the officers who passed by in full riot gear. Elderly neighbors banged cooking pots on their windows and balconies.

Bosnia has the highest unemployment rate in the Balkans at roughly 40 percent. Privatization that followed the end of communism and the 1992-95 war produced a handful of tycoons, but almost wiped out the middle class and sent many workers into poverty.

mkg/cp (Reuters, AP)