Croats tear down signs put up for Serb minority

ZAGREB Mon Sep 2, 2013 7:44am EDT

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ZAGREB (Reuters) - Several hundred Croat protesters on Monday tore down signs in Serb Cyrillic script put up in a Croatian city devastated during the independence war with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, state radio said.

The signs were put up in Vukovar early on Monday morning according to a law in the newest European Union member making bilingual signs mandatory in an area where more than one third of the local population belongs to an ethnic minority group.

Vukovar was reduced to rubble during a three-month siege by Yugoslav and Serbian forces in late 1991. Though rebuilt, the town remains poor, with high unemployment and ethnic tensions.

"The protesters managed to overcome the police protection and smash new signs in Cyrillic on the local tax office and police station in Vukovar," the state news agency Hina reported.

The Croatian and Serbian languages are mutually intelligible, but Croats use Latin script while Serbs, like Russians or Bulgarians, use Cyrillic. Some Croats see Cyrillic as a reminder of fighting with the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian militias in the 1991-95 war of independence.

Public Administration Minister Arsen Bauk told state radio he had no details of the events in Vukovar.

"According to some announcements in the past months, we could expect there would be protests," he said.

Last April some 20,000 Croats protested on Zagreb's main square against a plan to introduce Cyrillic signs in Vukovar threatening to prevent such action.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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