Anti-government protesters on Friday stormed into the Bosnian presidential office and another government building in Sarajevo and set them ablaze as riot police fired tear gas in an attempt to stop them.
Smoke rose from several Bosnian cities as thousands vented their fury over the Balkan nation’s almost 40 percent unemployment and its rampant corruption. It was the worst social unrest the country has seen since the 1992-1995 war that killed more than 100,000 people following Yugoslavia’s dissolution.
As night fell on Friday, downtown Sarajevo was in chaos, with buildings and cars burning as riot police chased protesters and pounded batons against their shields to disperse the crowd. Nearly 200 people were injured throughout the country in clashes with police, medical workers reported.
Bosnians have many reasons to be unhappy as general elections approach in October. The privatization that followed the war battered the middle class and sent the working class into poverty as a few tycoons flourished. Corruption is widespread and high taxes for the country’s bloated public sector eat away at residents’ paychecks.
In the northern city of Tuzla, protesters stormed the local government building, throwing furniture and files out its windows on Friday before setting it on fire. The local government resigned. By evening, protesters also burned the city’s court building.
Protesters also set upon local government buildings in Zenica, Mostar and Travnik. The crowd in Zenica pushed several cars belonging to local officials into the nearby river and city authorities announced they will resign.
In the northern town of Brcko, the crowd briefly took the mayor hostage before releasing him.
The protests began in Tuzla last week with a clash between police and the unpaid workers of four former state-owned companies. The companies’ new owners were supposed to invest and make them profitable, but instead sold the assets, stopped paying workers and filed for bankruptcy.
In an unprecedented move, hundreds gathered on Friday in the capital of the Bosnian Serb part of the country, Banja Luka, to back the protesters in Bosnia’s other mini-state, which is shared by Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
“We gathered to support the protests in Tuzla, where people are fighting for their rights,” said Aleksandar Zolja, an activist from Banja Luka.