Bosnia was hit by fresh protests against unemployment and corruption Saturday but the demonstrations were mostly peaceful as the country was left reeling from three days of rioting in the worst unrest since the 1992-1995 war.
Several hundred protesters again took to the streets of the capital Sarajevo and several towns across the country to vent their anger at the state of the economy in the Balkan nation where unemployment stands at 44 percent.
But in stark contrast to the previous days only the northwestern town of Bihac saw renewed clashes, with demonstrators scuffling with police in front of a regional government building, according to BHR1 state radio. No serious injuries were reported.
Peaceful rallies were held in the northwestern towns of Sanski Most, Bosanska Krupa and Prijedor, Bugojno in the centre and Konjic in the south.
In the northern town of Tuzla, where the unrest first erupted this week, residents joined forces with municipal workers to help clear the debris a day after thousands of demonstrators ransacked a local government building, destroying furniture and throwing televisions out of the windows.
In Sarajevo, the acrid smell of smoke hung in the air after rampaging protesters set fire to government buildings on Friday, in scenes that have been repeated in cities throughout the country.
Police have used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, leaving around 300 people injured nationwide since the demonstrations began on Wednesday.
The protesters are demanding the resignation of local and regional officials who they blame for two decades of political inertia and widespread corruption that has left the country of 3.8 million people in dire economic straits.
Bosnia’s interior minister warned that government inaction could spark more popular anger, saying authorities had to launch an “anti-graft tsunami.”
“If this does not happen, we will have a ‘citizens’ tsunami’,” Fahrudin Radoncic said in a TV interview.
Several senior regional officials in protest-hit towns already resigned late on Friday under the pressure, local media said.
“This is so sad, to see the towns ablaze less than 20 years after living through another hell,” Jasminka Fisic, an unemployed resident of Sarajevo said, referring to the country’s bloody 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war that left 100,000 dead.
But in Mostar, a southern town divided between its Muslim and Croat communities, some residents said the riots that saw protesters storm a local administration building and smash windows on Friday had brought locals together.
“Despair has united the people, Mostar has shown unity for the first time in 20 years,” 30-year-old resident Dzenan Jelin, an unemployed Muslim, said.
The protests first erupted in Tuzla, once the biggest industrial hub in Bosnia, where dozens of companies were ruined after hasty privatisations, leaving thousands unemployed.
Discontent has also been fuelled by the perceived failure of politicians to overcome bickering and focus on the economy.
Analyst Minel Abaz said the painful post-war transition of Bosnia’s impoverished economy has only brought “wealth to the ruling elite”.
“Bosnian society is deeply divided… but the protests like this could be a good chance to overcome such inter-ethnic divisions,” Abaz said.
Beset by endemic government corruption, Bosnia is among the poorest countries in Europe, with an average monthly salary of 420 euros ($570).
Adding to Bosnia’s financial woes, the European Union said in December it would halve its financial aid over the nation’s lack of progress with reforms needed to join the bloc.
Trailing behind their Balkan neighbours, Bosnia only started high-level accession talks with the EU in mid-2012.
But a complex institutional structure in the country established after the end of the war dividing power between its three ethnic communities, Serbs, Croats and Muslims has led to an almost permanent political stalemate because of inter-ethnic disputes.
Prominent political analyst Srecko Latal said the protesters had sent a clear message to the political elite.
“Politicians should understand that this was a very serious sign that the citizens were fed up with political disputes and wanted a different future,” Latal told reporters.
The protests have so far mostly engulfed towns in Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat Federation.
But small-scale demos were also held on Friday in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska.