SARAJEVO Thousands of Bosnians rallied in several towns to demand the resignation of a regional government on Tuesday, driving on protests against corruption and unemployment that have plunged the country into crisis.
Nermin Niksic, prime minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, which together with the Serb Republic makes up post-war Bosnia, dismissed the protesters' demands made in protests now in their seventh day, but proposed early polls.
The peaceful protests have been contained to the Muslim Bosniak-dominated parts of the country's autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation but were slowly starting to spread to other parts as well.
They have exposed deep social discontent over the dire state of economy and political paralysis in the country, and have already brought down four out of 10 cantonal district governments in the Federation.
The protesters now want the Federation government to step down in favor of a technocrat government.
"They have been in power for 20 years but all they have done was to get rich and build palaces and towers," said Hasib Delic, a retired war veteran, referring to local politicians.
Prime Minister Niksic, while dismissing the protesters' demands, forwarded to the central parliament amendments to the election law which would allow the country to hold snap elections. At present, Bosnia's constitution does not envisage early polls.
In Sarajevo, the protesters, mainly pensioners and unemployed of all ages, marched down the main street shouting: "Resignations, resignations!" Some carried a banner reading:
The Bosniak and Croat leaders called on citizens to make sure the protests did not grow into inter-ethnic clashes in the country in which 100,000 were killed during the 1992-95 war among its Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.
Regular parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for October, and leaders of the Serb Republic, the country's other autonomous region, have already dismissed calls for a snap election.
Top EU officials were expected to visit Bosnia next week to discuss possible measures for its speedier accession to the bloc. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is due to visit Sarajevo later on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela; editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Ralph Boulton)