Bosnians step up 'baby protests' against political inertia

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2013 12:23 PM
Bosnians step up 'baby protests' against political inertia

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - About 3,000 demonstrators blocked downtown Sarajevo's streets on Monday in a sit-down protest at the failure of Bosnian lawmakers to pass a law on the registration of newborn babies.

The protesters included young mothers who set up an improvised playgroup for babies on the lawn outside parliament.

The so-called "Baby Protests" sprung up after a court suspended a law on the issuing of identity numbers for citizens, used for everything from medical documents to passports, effectively halting the registration of newborn babies.

Public anger grew with the death last month of a three-month-old baby after urgent surgery was delayed because her parents had been unable to obtain the necessary travel documents.

The movement has given voice to years of mounting frustration among Bosnians at the bickering of rival Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders that has stifled recovery and reform since the end of the 1992-95 Bosnia war.

The ID saga began when a court ordered lawmakers to correct the names of towns listed in the law, but snowballed when Serb parties said the 13-digit numbers should reflect Bosnia's territorial division into two, ethnically-based regions.

Monday's protest was the first since the passing of a June 30 deadline set by organizers for lawmakers to agree a permanent solution.

Protesters called on Bosnians not to pay utility bills until a new law is passed.

"First they divided us along national lines after the war, and then they continued a silent war that is killing us and our children," said a pensioner who gave only his first name, Ibro. "They'll fall only through revolution."

Around 100,000 people died in the war triggered by the collapse of federal Yugoslavia.

A U.S.-brokered peace deal silenced the guns but created a system of ethnic power-sharing so unwieldy that the process of governing frequently grinds to a halt, held hostage to nationalist and political interests.

Croatia's accession to the European Union at midnight on Sunday underscored just how far neighboring Bosnia has fallen behind. It has yet to apply to join the EU and start a process likely to last at least a decade.

The Bosnian parliament has not sat since June 6, when protesters blocked lawmakers inside for 14 hours.

"Let's wake them up from their long hibernation and push them to start doing their well paid jobs," said Aleksandra Savic, head of a music center in the southern city of Mostar.

"We are poor, our babies are dying. What else has to happen for us to realize things must finally change?"

(Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Matt Robinson and Angus MacSwan)