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By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A seven-month power struggle in Bosnia's autonomous Muslim-Croat federation deepened on Thursday as Bosnian Muslim lawmakers blocked the appointment of a judge to a top court, effectively blocking a government reshuffle.
Political and ethnic rivalry in the Federation, one of two regions in Bosnia along with the Serb Republic, is symptomatic of the complex and unwieldy system of rule in the Balkan country under the peace accords that ended its 1992-95 war.
Lawmakers from the largest Bosnian Muslim, or Bosniak, party, the SDA, rejected as inappropriate a proposed Bosniak judge for the Federation's Constitutional Court, citing "vital national interest", a mechanism designed to safeguard important ethnic rights.
The move means that the court's seven-judge panel dealing with issues of ethnic rights, which has been left without a Bosniak or Serb judge for years due to political obstruction, will not be able to handle cases.
The parliamentary vote was supposed to fill the court's panel of judges with new Serb, Bosniak and Muslim judges, but only a Serb candidate was approved. The parliament rejected a Croat candidate with a majority vote.
"With this move, the Federation has been totally blocked," said Radoje Vidovic, the parliament's upper house president.
"The most important institution that should decide on vital national interests has not been manned - primarily because of the use of vital national interest," he said.
The court will not be able to rule on the case of a disputed Bosniak judge, who was approved by parliamentary majority, nor on a confidence vote in the government that was also blocked by the SDA on the grounds of "vital national interest".
Last month, the SDA blocked a government reshuffle initiated by a new parliament majority to prevent the sacking of its ministers who were part of the previous coalition.
"We need new proposals for the judges so that we can approve them by the summer," said Amir Zukic, the head of the Bosniak caucus in the upper house.
But Vidovic said that he expected Bosnia's international peace overseer, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, to use his sweeping powers and intervene to end the impasse.
Inzko, who has rarely intervened to impose laws or fire obstructionist officials, reflecting a Western hands-off approach to Bosnia in recent years, has warned lawmakers they needed to assure that the court can fully operate.
"Given the current disputes in the Federation, the need for functioning institutions - especially the Constitutional Court - has never been greater," he said on Wednesday.
Bosnia has lurched from one political crisis to another since the end of the war, stalling reforms and leaving it trailing its fellow former Yugoslav republics in the long road to membership of the European Union.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)