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Thousands Protest Govt. in Bosnia

October 25, 1999

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Thousands of Bosnians chanting anti-government slogans streamed into Sarajevo on Monday, demanding job protection and aggressive action against corruption.

As many as 30,000 workers, pensioners and demobilized soldiers swarmed into the capital from all parts of the country. They chanted, ``Down with the government!″ and carried banners reading, ``We fought for this country and not for war-profiteers.″

``We don’t want this life _ in which surviving has become an art,″ said Fatima Fazlic, an unemployed worker.

The peaceful demonstrators staged a sit-in on Sarajevo’s main street, blocking traffic. One of the organizers pleaded with the crowd not to destroy anything, noting that war damage ``took us a while to repair.″

Bosnia has struggled to revive its economy since its 3 1/2 year war ended in 1995. An estimated 70 percent of the population is without work. Rampant corruption touching even the highest levels of government has demoralized an exhausted populace.

Upcoming plans to privatize state-owned industries sparked Monday’s demonstration. Even the few who have work expect to lose their jobs once the privatization process begins.

``Unfortunately, four years into peace, even those who have a job are not being paid regularly,″ Sulejman Hrle, the head of the Muslim-Croat Trade Union said.

The protesters are seeking job protection, higher wages and guarantees of a social safety net for those who lose their jobs. They also want local politicians to stop bickering about the re-establishment of rail lines throughout the region, a move many believe would improve the area’s economic potential.

Demonstrators marched behind a banner reading, ``Gentlemen, why aren’t the trains running?″ They loudly insisted that international officials overseeing the peace plan should fire civic leaders obstructing the railway traffic.

The European Confederation of Trade Unions and even workers from the Bosnian Serb half of the country expressed their support.

Hrle said that if the protest doesn’t bring results, more people would join in future marches. ``In the end we will demand new elections and a replacement of the current power structure,″ he said.

The prime minister of the Muslim-Croat federation, Edhem Bicakcic, rejected Hrle’s invitation to address the workers.

``The expression of dissatisfaction in such a form, without concrete addressing of responsibility, is not in my opinion a way of solving problems,″ his office said in a statement.

The government has not tried to prevent the demonstrations, but protesters from other parts of Bosnia claimed they were held up by police checks when entering the city on buses.

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