SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Nearly 3,000 people formed a chain around Bosnia's parliament Thursday, preventing politicians from going home until they start doing their jobs instead of keeping the country paralyzed with ethnic bickering.
What started as a small protest over a new law on personal identification numbers the day before has grown into a blockade of the building, with more people joining the protest every hour.
They demand a new law on personal ID numbers after the old one lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since without personal documents. The crowd has rejected the government's offer for a temporary solution.
Sarajevo's mayor, Ivo Komsic, joined the protest, saying "I am here also on behalf of over 1,500 Sarajevo babies who can't get travel documents."
Media reports about a 3-month-old baby that needs urgent life-saving medical treatment abroad but can't travel because the infant can't get a passport sparked the initial protest Wednesday. The baby's problem was solved when the government agreed to start issuing temporary ID numbers until a new law is passed within six months, but protesters now demand a final solution.
Police special forces were deployed to keep protesters away from parliament, but a number of young mothers with babies born after February and deprived of personal documents pushed their carriages between the protesters and the officers, making everybody stop.
Bosnian Serb lawmakers inside have expressed concern over their safety and said there won't be a parliamentary session because of security reasons. Some parliament employees tried to escape through windows but protesters turned them back yelling "Go back to work!"
Sarajevo cabdrivers are supporting the protest by blocking some of the streets around the building.
Bosniak, Serb and Croat lawmakers are at loggerheads over some digits designating regions in the 13-digit ID number. As a result, babies born since February can't get passports or health insurance because those require a personal ID number.
The essence of the problem is that representatives of the three groups in Bosnia have never given up their wartime goals.
Bosniaks and Croats are trying to put the country together after it got divided during the 1992-95 war that took more than 100,000 lives. It now consists of a Serb ministate and another one shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two are linked by a common parliament and government.
The Serbs are trying to keep the country divided and perhaps even secede from Bosnia the half they control. In line with this policy, the Serb lawmakers want the new ID numbers to reflect this division. The Bosniaks and the Croats claim the Serb request is further dividing the country.
Most of the problems Bosnia has are the result of this unity verses division battle.
The protesters around parliament are mainly those who advocate a unified country. Nobody from the Bosnian Serb part came to join them.
The crowd is also frustrated with how ineffective the parliament is in general while the lawmakers make six times the average Bosnian salary per month. There is also more than 20 percent unemployment and increased poverty in the country.
"This is not just about the ID number. It is about their attitude toward us. It is about how unimportant we are to them as citizens," said Tarik Celik, 26.
The protesters now also ask for the lawmakers to decrease their salaries by one third and send that money to a fund that will be used for medical treatments of sick children.