SARAJEVO/BANJA LUKA (Reuters) - Protests organized in Bosnia’s two largest cities on Friday by a pair of fathers demanding the truth about the alleged murders of their sons overshadowed rallies for Sunday’s general election.
The young men’s parents and the opposition accuse the authorities of being involved in what they say were murders that were concealed by police and prosecutors for political reasons.
Wide public support for the two grieving fathers has bridged Bosnia’s ethnic divisions, reflecting discontent with a political system and judiciary mired in corruption and party dominance in the 23 years since the country’s 1992-95 war ended.
Final rallies ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections were scheduled for Friday evening, coinciding with protests in the capital Sarajevo and the northwestern town of Banja Luka.
But the main opposition bloc in the autonomous Serb Republic, the Alliance for Victory (SzP), canceled its gathering in Banja Luka, as did two opposition parties in Sarajevo, in a show of solidarity with the grieving families.
The two fathers - Davor Dragicevic, a Serb from Banja Luka, and Muriz Memic, a Muslim Bosniak from Sarajevo - decided to hold simultaneous protests before the vote to put pressure on the judiciary to speed up proceedings into their sons’ deaths.
“Let’s make the revolution with pens,” Memic urged several thousand protesters in Sarajevo, referring to Sunday’s election. The protesters chanted “We want justice” and carried placards demanding “Justice for Dzenan”. Some cried.
The protest in Banja Luka was delayed after armed Bosnian Serb police stopped buses carrying supporters from other towns. Traffic in the city center was halted and police cruised the streets in armored vehicles.
Dragicevic first said protesters would blockade the city unless all their supporters were allowed to join them, but the protest later went ahead and ended without incident.
“The Interior Ministry organized the murder of David Dragicevic,” his father said, naming the officials allegedly involved. “This is a criminal state, criminal police.”
About a 20,000-strong crowd chanted “Killers!” and booed when he mentioned Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, whose SNSD party held its final rally at a square just few miles away attended by few thousand supporters.
Dodik has said the death is a matter for prosecutors but that he sympathizes with the family’s pain.
The Serb Republic authorities have repeatedly accused the opposition of trying to make political gains from the case.
Dragicevic, who along with his supporters has held daily protests for more than six months, said his 21-year-old son, who was found dead in March in a creek in Banja Luka a week after he went missing, was captured, tortured and brutally murdered.
The police said he had drowned and had alcohol and drugs in his system.
In Sarajevo, 22-year-old Dzenan Memic died of wounds to his head in 2016 and the prosecution first said he was murdered. Prosecutors later declared that new evidence showed he had been killed in a car accident but his family has never accepted the decision, saying a murder was covered up.
Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Toby Chopra