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Scores hurt as civil unrest spreads across country

AT least 90 people have been injured after protesters stormed and set ablaze local government buildings in three Bosnian cities after anger over unemployment and rampant corruption boiled over.

A protester walks by burning documents             from a government building in Tuzla on Friday, the third day of unrest              Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
A protester walks by burning documents from a government building in Tuzla on Friday, the third day of unrest Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Anti-government protests that began two days ago in the northern city of Tuzla spread throughout Bosnia, with thousands taking their discontent over the almost 40% unemployment rate onto the streets of a dozen cities.

In Tuzla, the crowd stormed the local government building yesterday, throwing furniture, files and papers out of the windows before starting a blaze inside. Protesters also set fire to local government buildings in Sarajevo and Zenica.

"I'm glad we did it," said Sanela Fetic, an unemployed 35-year-old who took part in both the protests and the clean-up afterwards.

"Now we'll clean up this mess, like we'll clean up the politicians who made this happen."

At least 80 people were injured in Sarajevo and 10 in Zenica, authorities said. There were no immediate casualty figures from Tuzla, where the worst of the violence took place.

In an unprecedented move, hundreds gathered in the capital of the Bosnian Serb part of the country, Banja Luka, to express support for protesters in the country's other mini-state, which is shared by Bosniaks and Croats.

Activist Aleksandar Zolja said: "We gathered to support the protests in Tuzla, where people are fighting for their rights,"

The protests began last Wednesday with a clash between police and unpaid workers of four former state-owned companies, which left some 130 people hurt, mostly from tear gas.

The firms employed most of the population of Tuzla. When they were privatised, contracts obliged the new owners to invest in the companies and make them profitable, but they sold the assets, stopped paying workers and filed for bankruptcy.

Bosnians have many reasons to be unhappy as general elections approach in October. As well as the unemployment rate, the privatisation that followed the end of communism and the 1992-95 war produced a handful of tycoons, almost wiped out the middle class and sent the working class into poverty.

Corruption is widespread and high taxes to fund a bloated public sector eat away at pay cheques.

The presidency, with its three members from Bosnia's Serb, Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities, has become symbolic of the dysfunction of the former Yugoslav republic.

To some in Sarajevo, the scenes were uncomfortably reminiscent of the wartime siege of the city by Bosnian Serb forces in surrounding hills, a 43-month bombardment that claimed more than 10,000 of the estimated 100,000 lives lost in the war.

"I'm struggling not to cry," said Enisa Sehic, 46, an economist. "This is like a flashback to the not so distant past."

The head of the Sarajevo government, Suad Zeljkovic, joined his counterpart from Tuzla in resigning, it was reported last night. However, it was unclear if the unrest would have any greater political consequences.

Political analyst Enver Kazaz said: "This is about 20 years of accumulated rage coming to the surface, and it's very difficult to assess what will happen next."

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