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News by VICE

Government Buildings Torched as Protests Rattle Bosnia

Protesters broke into various official buildings in three cities in the country, demonstrating over unemployment and corruption.

by Olivia Becker
Feb 7 2014, 11:50pm

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Protesters set fire to government buildings today in several cities in Bosnia, including Saravejo and Tuzla, in the third consecutive day of violent anti-government protests.

Protesters broke into various official buildings in three cities in the country, throwing furniture, breaking windows and setting the buildings ablaze. The video below shows demonstrators burning a government building in Tuzla today. Protesters also burned cars and buildings in downtown Sarajevo, and briefly held the mayor hostage in the northern town of Brcko, The Associated Press reported.

The Bosnian government responded to the protests with tear gas and riot police, resulting in clashes that injured nearly 200 people, AP reports. This marks the greatest instability in recent years of the fragile country still recovering from the genocide in the early 1990s that killed more than 100,000 people.

As with the Arab Spring, many of the protesters are young people and students who are facing a nearly 40 percent unemployment rate and rampant government corruption, with widespread feelings of helplessness and few options.

The protests were sparked last week by the closure of several large state-owned companies that employed thousands in the northern city of Tuzla after the came under private control. Demonstrations originally began as displays of solidarity with the laid off workers in Tuzla, but quickly spread to the capital and other major cities as Bosnians voiced their anger with the economic hardship wrought by government corruption.

“The main reason [for the protests] is a social one: 'poverty, unemployment, feeling of injustice,'” Muharem Bazdulj, a journalist for a daily newspaper in Sarajevo, told VICE News. “It is also significant that all started in Tuzla, a city that was once a big industry center in Yugoslavia, but now is on its knees, similar to Detroit.”

Many Bosnians view the closure of these factories - the result of a long dispute in which the companies stopped paying their workers and sold all their assets over a period of several years - as the latest display of corruption brought by the widespread privatization the country went through after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As with Russia, this wave of privatization in the 1990s concentrated most of the wealth for a very select few, while leaving the rest of the country in a state of economic despair.

The leader of the Tuzla region, Sead Causevic, told Bosnian state TV that the “rip-off privatization” was already concluded when his government took power and that the workers’ demands are legitimate, according to the AP.