SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian lawmakers stayed away from parliament this time and took an early weekend after anti-government protesters, including mothers with baby carriages, kept them trapped inside during a 12-hour siege.
Hours after Bosnian police freed 1,500 legislators, civil servants and visitors early Friday, thousands of people surrounded the building for a third day. But this time it was empty.
The protest started Wednesday as a small request for a new law on national ID numbers, which citizens need to obtain passports and other documents. The old law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born in the country since then without personal documents.
On Thursday, thousands formed a human ring around parliament, forcing whoever was inside to stay put. But in the pre-dawn hours of Friday, special forces formed their own human cordon, freeing those inside the building.
The discontent has grown into a broader anti-government protest and the crowds of mainly students gathered Friday evening chanted "We want changes." They demanded their politicians stop ethnic bickering and start working on improving the life of impoverished citizens in the country.
The unrest was sparked by media reports about a 3-month-old baby that needs life-saving medical treatment abroad but can't travel because the infant can't get a passport. The government started issuing temporary numbers until a new paw is passed but protesters demanded a final solution.
Encouraged by morning protests in other Bosnian cities, organized to support the one in Sarajevo, thousands gathered again to express their general dissatisfaction with their leaders.
"We just want to send a message to the politicians not to play with our future because their future is in our hands," one of the protesters in Sarajevo, 25-year-old Amar Nurkovic, said.
Post-war, ethnically-divided Bosnia is one of the world's most over-governed countries. It consists of two semi-autonomous mini-states, each with a president, government and parliament. Those are linked by a joint parliament, government and a three-member presidency.
The unemployment rate is over 20 percent and the country is far behind its neighbors on the path toward EU membership.
But politicians are still focused on ethnic bickering.
The essence of the problem is that representatives of the three peoples in Bosnia have never given up their wartime goals. Bosniaks and Croats are trying to put the country together, while Serbs want to keep it divided and perhaps even secede from Bosnia.
The 1992-95 war they fought over this took more than 100,000 lives and divided the country into a Serb part — Republika Srpska — and another shared by Bosniaks and Croats.
Most of the problems Bosnia has are a result of the conflict between those two concepts — ethnic division and unity.
In the case of the ID numbers law, Serb lawmakers demand that the new numbers reflect the ethnic division, while Bosniaks and Croats claim that would further divide the country.
Bosnian Serb officials often obstruct the work of the joint state institution just to prove that a unified Bosnia is not possible.
The president of the Bosnian Serb ministate, Milorad Dodik, recently summed it up in a talk show on Bosnian Serb TV: "The less Bosnia-Herzegovina there is — the more powerful Republika Srpska will be. That is the policy we insist on."
Fed up with this attitude, thousands took to the streets in several cities in Bosnia requesting politicians to start doing their jobs.
In Sarajevo, the head of the European Union mission in Bosnia, Peter Sorensen, stated that the protests were "a clear demand on elected officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina at all levels to do what they have been elected to do — work in the interests of the citizens."