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Listen to your people, EU tells Bosnia leaders after unrest

Anti-government protesters simulate an execution scene during a protest in Sarajevo February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Anti-government protesters simulate an execution scene during a protest in Sarajevo February 17, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The European Union told Bosnia's fractious leaders on Tuesday to heed protesters' demands for more accountability and transparency after the worst bout of civil unrest since the Balkan country's 1992-95 war.

The protests over unemployment, graft and political inertia toppled four of 10 regional governments in Bosnia's autonomous Federation, dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats. Bosnia is made up of two parts, the Federation and Serb Republic.

Smaller, peaceful protests continue in what may become the most significant challenge yet to the peace deal that ended Bosnia's war but created an unwieldy system of ethnic power-sharing that has stifled all political and economic progress.

"I call on politicians ... not to ignore the voices of the citizens," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said after meeting Bosnian leaders and a delegation of the protesters.

"It is clear that the political system in Bosnia must become more responsive to the citizens' agenda - conditions for more jobs, more efficient justice and fair opportunities in life."

The protests began over factory closures in the former industrial hub of Tuzla and escalated when demonstrators set ablaze government buildings in the capital Sarajevo and other towns. Hundreds of people were injured, most of them policemen.

In several towns protesters set up citizens' assemblies to press their demands, which include a fairer governing system.

The current complex, multi-layered system of administration feeds large networks of political patronage, reserving jobs in governments and public companies for political party members.

During his visit, Fule also tried unsuccessfully to persuade Bosnia's rival Serb, Bosniak and Croat leaders to agree on a constitutional reform that would remove discrimination against minority groups such as Jews and Roma, who currently cannot run for top office in the country's ethnically-based governments.

The reform is a key condition for Bosnia to apply for EU membership, a goal shared by all its leaders. The reform has been blocked in the national parliament by conflicting interests of the three main ethnic groups.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and)

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