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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnia's top international official said Monday the gains by nationalist parties in weekend elections did not mean a return to policies that led to Bosnia's brutal conflict on the 1990s.

International officials had urged Bosnians to pick pro-Western reformers, sending signals that cooperation and foreign aid could be at stake if the winners were to swing the country back to the same nationalist politics that sparked the 1992-95 war, Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II.

But the Social Democrats that had led a pro-Western ruling coalition on the national level for the past two years were pushed back by nationalist parties that once led the country into war.

``The weekend vote was a protest,'' said Paddy Ashdown, the top international official who runs Bosnia. It was ``a cry for help, not a vote for more of the same or a return of the past.'' It does not mean that Bosnians want to revert to divisive nationalism, he added.

The country's only large multiethnic party, the reformist Social Democrats, dropped to third place in the Muslim-Croat half of Bosnia, according to preliminary results.

The Muslim-only Party for Democratic Action, known by its initials SDA, made the largest gain in Saturday's poll, but Ashdown said it was the ``one that had done the most to move to a center moderate ground.''

``Let's wait and see. I would judge these people on what they do in the future. Justice and jobs will be the acid test for the future government,'' he said.

Unemployment is 60 percent, and the judicial system is inefficient and corrupt.

But Mark Wheeler, a Bosnia expert with the International Crisis Group, said the SDA remained essentially nationalist because it ``carries too much baggage of the past. The SDA has changed, but the change is far from complete.''

Senka Kurtovic, chief editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, said she could not understand why Bosnians didn't listen to that warning.

``I am scared, confused and disappointed,'' she said. ``I believe less and less that there will be any progress in Bosnia.''

Slobodana Stanic, 60, a retiree in the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, said the result was negative for Bosnia. ``Our future is uncertain now,'' she said.

Aldin Herljevic, 31, a Bosnian Muslim who lives as a refugee in London, said the result persuaded him to abandon his homeland for good.

``Europe is now going to put barbed wire around us,'' said Herljevic, who was visiting family in Bosnia. ``This was the last chance for Bosnia to become a democratic country. I am definitely not coming back after this.''

Candidates from the other two nationalist parties, the Serb Democratic Party and the Croat Democratic Union, won their ethnic groups' spots on the three-member multiethnic presidency.

In the race for the Muslim spot, SDA's Sulejman Tihic led with 38 percent ahead of reformist Haris Silajdzic with 36 percent after 93 percent of ballots had been counted.