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Thursday February 13, 2014 MYT 12:41:06 AM
Thursday February 13, 2014 MYT 12:42:03 AM
by maja zuvela
Anti-government protesters hold a banner that reads "EU help" as protesters block Alipasina street during protest in Sarajevo February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Regional power Turkey called on Wednesday for urgent political and economic reforms in Bosnia after the worst bout of social unrest in the impoverished Balkan country since its 1992-95 war.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotuglu made his appeal during a visit to Sarajevo as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets for a second week over unemployment, corruption and political inertia in the former Yugoslav republic.
Some members of the European Union, Bosnia's chief sponsor, have said the protests are a wake-up call after years of political stagnation rooted in a labyrinthine power-sharing system created under a 1995 peace deal.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is expected to visit Sarajevo next week amid calls from some in the 28-nation bloc to accelerate Bosnia's integration.
"Today is the day to act in Bosnia and we must not wait any longer," Davutoglu said.
"Bosnia urgently needs international aid in the form of a new package of political and economic reforms."
Bosnia, whose central government has limited powers, is made up of an autonomous Federation dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats and an autonomous Serb Republic. It has a three-member presidency with a representative from each major ethnic group.
Turkey is particularly influential among the Bosniaks, who are driving the protests. Much of the Balkans, including Bosnia, spent five centuries under Ottoman Turkish rule.
SUSPICION AND ANGER
Bosnia's Orthodox Christian Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats often view Turkey's role with suspicion, believing it supports Bosniak hopes for a greater centralisation of power in Sarajevo, something they oppose.
Fuelled by anger over factory closures in the former industrial hub of Tuzla, protesters last week set fire to government buildings in the city, in Sarajevo and two other towns, fighting with police in an unprecedented outburst of social unrest.
Several hundred people were injured, most of them police. The violence has subsided and, though persistent, the protests are now small.
The crisis has already brought down four of 10 cantonal administrations in the Bosniak-Croat Federation and protesters are now calling for the resignation of its government.
The turmoil has exposed deep social discontent over the state of the economy, unemployment of more than 27 percent and a broken, unwieldy political system - set down by the 1995 Dayton peace accord - that has served to perpetuate ethnic divisions.
"The Dayton peace agreement was of outmost importance for it helped end the war but it is obvious that it now hampers the functioning of the country," Davutoglu said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also called on Wednesday for a "renewed effort" by the EU to help Bosnia.
Bakir Izetbegovic, a Bosniak who shares the country's rotating presidency with a Serb and a Croat, said Ashton was expected to come to Sarajevo with EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fule. Bosnia hopes eventually to join the EU and NATO.
Trying to harness what has so far been an apparently spontaneous outpouring of anger, informal protest leaders were due on Wednesday to establish a Citizens' Assembly to channel their demands.
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Gareth Jones)
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