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130 injured as police, protesters clash in Bosnia

SARAJEVO--More than 130 people, most of them policemen, were injured when police used tear gas and clashed with Bosnian demonstrators angry over the dire economic situation in a country where unemployment tops more than 44 percent, officials said.

“Thirty protestors and 104 policemen were admitted during the day at the emergency services” in the northeastern town of Tuzla where the protests erupted Thursday, hospital spokesman Adis Nisic told AFP.

Most injuries were caused by “heavy objects” or were “eye-irritation by tear gas,” Nisic said.

Earlier reports said 32 people were hurt, including two policeman seriously injured during scuffles in Tuzla, once one of the main industrial hubs in the former Yugoslav republic.

Fresh clashes erupted later Thursday between several hundred protestors and the police, who sprayed each other with tear gas, Nisic said.

Police managed to disperse the crowd, but some protestors remained hiding in hallways and alleys in the center of Tuzla, regional TV station RTVTK reported.

Thousands of demonstrators had gathered — more than 2,000 according to police, while local media said there were 7,000 — for a second day of protest against Bosnia's economic woes.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds as demonstrators tried to break into regional government offices in Tuzla and threw stones.

“We have nothing to eat, and you?” said one of the placards carried by protestors.

Tuzla police spokesman Izudin Saric told AFP that “26 policeman, two of them seriously, and six protestors were injured.”

Eight protestors were arrested, Saric said.

It followed protests on Wednesday, when 14 people, mostly policemen, were also injured in Tuzla, while 22 people were arrested.

Most were released Thursday, while three remained in custody.

Protesters accuse the authorities of fraudulently privatising a number of factories once owned by the state and demand payment of salary arrears, which they claim have been delayed for months.

Protests a 'revolution'

Workers were joined by unemployed and young people, many of whom said they had no future in Bosnia.

“I am 28 years old and I have been unemployed for more than 10 years. I cannot feed my children,” one of the protestors said.

Sakib Kopic, one of the workers' representatives, said the protests were a “revolution, the answer of people” to the authorities' failure to address the ongoing economic downfall.

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

There were also protests on Thursday in the capital Sarajevo and several other towns in the Muslim-Croat federation, one of the two entities that make up post-war Bosnia.

Federation Prime Minister Nermin Niksic has called for an emergency session of his cabinet late Thursday to access the security situation in the towns hit by protests.

“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,” Sehic said.

In Sarajevo, about hundred people threw eggs and stones on government buildings, shouting “Thieves!” and “Murderers!” before anti-riot police moved to disperse them.

The unemployment rate in Bosnia, a Balkan country of 3.8 million people, is more than 44 percent.

Although official data show that 27.5 percent of its working population is unemployed, at least another 20 percent of people are estimated to be engaged in the so-called grey economy.

An average monthly salary in Bosnia is 420 euros (US$570). One in five citizens lives under the poverty line, official data shows.

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A Bosnian woman stands near burning car tires during a protest in the Bosnian town of Tuzla, 140 kilometers north of Sarajevo on Thursday, Feb. 6. (AP)

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