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Over 150 hurt as Bosnia protesters clash with police

More than 150 people were wounded in Bosnia when protesters stormed government buildings and clashed with riot police as anger over the dire state of the economy boiled over.

TUZLA, Bosnia-Hercegovina: More than 150 people were wounded in Bosnia on Friday when protesters stormed government buildings and clashed with riot police as anger over the dire state of the economy boiled over.

With unemployment at 44 per cent and one in five people living below the poverty line, Bosnians have taken to the streets to protest the authorities' failure to address the economic situation.

As anger spiralled on Friday - the third day of the protests - demonstrators set fire to government buildings in the capital Sarajevo and Tuzla, the northeastern industrial hub where the unrest began.

Local media said police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters in Sarajevo, where demonstrators stormed two government buildings including a presidential office, setting them ablaze and smashing furniture.

At least 105 people were wounded in clashes between protesters and police, 78 of them police officers, Sarajevo head of emergency services Sena Softic Taljanovic told AFP by telephone.

Another 11 people were reported injured in Tuzla, where thousands of protesters cheered as young men wearing hoods stormed a government building, destroying furniture and throwing televisions out of the windows.

Some 3,000 people took to the streets in the central town of Zenica, once the seat of powerful mining industry, where state news agency Fena said more than 50 were wounded in clashes between protesters and police.

The demonstrations in more than 20 Bosnian towns were the biggest show of unrest to hit the Balkan country of 3.8 million people since the 1992-1995 war.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of local and regional officials who they blame for two decades of political stalemate that has left the economy in dire straits.

Zeljko Komsic, chairman of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said he would call for an extraordinary session of the country's leadership.

"We (politicians) are responsible for everything... Nothing good will come from anarchy," Komsic said on television.

Most protesters blamed politicians for the lack of economic growth in the country.

"People protest because they are hungry, because they don't have jobs. We demand the government resign," Nihad Karac, a construction worker in his 40s, told AFP.

"I am employed, but my salary is 250 euros per month."

Beset by endemic government corruption, Bosnia is among the poorest countries in Europe, with an average monthly salary of 420 euros (US$570).

More than 44 per cent of the working population is unemployed, according to the official Agency for Statistics, although the Central Bank puts the figure at 27.5 per cent, with at least 20 per cent of workers estimated to be engaged in the so-called grey economy.

Adding to Bosnia's financial woes, the European Union (EU) said in December it would halve its financial aid over the nation's lack of progress with reforms needed to join the bloc.

Bosnia hopes to join the EU and started high-level accession talks in mid-2012.

The protests started on Wednesday in Tuzla, once one of the main industrial hubs in the former Yugoslav republic.

They followed a call by workers who accused the authorities of fraudulently privatising a number of factories once owned by the state. They say salaries have been unpaid for months.

Sakib Kopic, one of the workers' representatives, said they were "the people's answer" to the government's failure to address the ongoing economic decline.

More than 130 people were injured in clashes between police and protesters in the city on Thursday, and on Friday the city's schools remained shut for fear of further violence.

"This is the shout of rage, hunger and hopelessness about the future that has accumulated for years since the conflict and is exploding right now," local newspaper Dnevni Avaz said in an editorial.

The violence also spread Friday to the southern town Mostar, where hundreds of protesters stormed a local administration building and smashed windows.

"More and more people are living in misery and poverty. They are hungry," said political analyst Vahid Sehic, chairman of the Forum of Citizens of Tuzla.

"People have lost hope and do not believe that the situation will improve, so their only tool is protest."

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