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Bosnia

Dismal outlook in Bosnia prompts violent protest

Bosnian officials assessing two days of anti-government unrest over the country's dire economic situation and high unemployment say more than 130 people were injured in Tuzla. Local schools have been closed.

Authorities in former Yugoslavia's industrial hub of Tuzla - now part of Bosnia - ordered schools closed on Friday, fearing more anti-government protests over high joblessness and years of political inertia.

On Thursday, protests involving thousands of people spread from Tuzla to Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica and Bihac. They were prompted by workers laid off in Tuzla because of the past collapses of four privatized formerly state-owned companies.

Young people and others anxious about their futures and angered by alleged corruption in political circles joined the worker-led protests.

"Thirty protestors and 104 policemen were admitted during the day at the emergency services," said Tuzla hospital spokesman Adis Nisic.

He said most injuries were caused by "heavy objects" or were "eye-irritation by tear gas."

In Sarajevo, four officers were hospitalized after police clashed with protestors who blocked traffic.

A Tuzla police spokesman said eight protestors were arrested on Thursday. Of 22 arrested on Wednesday, all but three had been freed.

'Hooligans,' says premier

The Prime Minister of Bosnia's autonomous Bosniak-Croat federation, Nermin Niksic, held talks on Thursday with prosecutors and accused "hooligans" of creating chaos.

A worker representative Sakib Kopic said the unrest was the "answer of people" to the failure of politicians to deal with Bosnia's economic downfall.

"Protestors are not savages. There are many young people who have no hope of getting a job after graduating," Kopic said.

'Cannot feed my children'

One protester quoted by the news agendy AFP said: "I am 28 years old and I have been unemployed for more than 10 years. I cannot feed my children."

Unemployment is widely put at more than 40 percent, given Bosnia's so-called "gray economy," although the official jobless rate is 27.5 percent.

One in five of Bosnia's 3.8 million inhabitants lives under the poverty line. The average monthly salary is around 420 euros ($571).

"More and more people live in misery and poverty, they are hungry," said analyst Vahid Sehic. "People have lost hope and do not believe that the situation will improve, so their only tool is to protest."

Bankruptcy followed privatizations

The four failed firms filed for bankruptcy between 2000 and 2008 after a wave of privatizations that followed the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The failed firms included furniture and washing powder factories.

Tuzla regional leader, Sead Causevic, told Bosnian state television that "rip-off" privatization had already taken place when his administration began governing the area.

US-led mediation led to Bosnia's peace deal in 1995 and the setting up of federated "entities" along sectarian lines.

General elections are due in October in Bosnia.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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