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Here's what it looked like when Bosnians shut down downtown Sarajevo
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

SARAJEVO, Bosnia — Bosnians were in a state of shock as they examined burned government buildings, overturned cars and destroyed bus stops in the capital this weekend.

The country’s largest protests in two decades started last week in the factory town of Tuzla, where 10,000 laid off factory workers expressed outrage over the government’s handling of privatized industries. Some have complained about two years of unpaid wages.

The unrest quickly spread to the capital, marking a turning point for a country that in the 1990s suffered the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

For more than a week, workers and pensioners, students and the unemployed have gathered daily. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. In one video from Friday, police are seen beating protesters with batons, driving them off a main road and down a steep embankment. 

More than 40 people were arrested and more than 100 injured.

Every day this week in Sarajevo, more than 1000 activists have gathered daily chanting “Thieves! Resign!”

They block intersections and intimidate drivers who try to cross their human barricades.

Nearly 20 years since the Dayton Peace accords ended the 1992 — 1995 civil war between Serbs, Croats and Muslims, Bosnians have been saddled with an unwieldy power-sharing political system that’s made governing very highly complicated.

While ordinary people struggle to make ends meet, politicians earn more than $10,000 a month, says activist Nidzjara Ahmetasevic.

“The people are really desperate,” she says.

Another protester, Merisha, a 30-year old pharmacist, lived through the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995. She says that her father, a war veteran, saw his pension cut in half. 

"We've been waiting for this kind of uprising for twenty years,” she says.

But others expressed anger at the protests’ violence, asking why Bosnians attacked public property and destroyed a valuable archive.

Samir Gluhic, 54, tearfully gazed at the burned presidency building Saturday.

"We have to go to the streets,” he says, “but this went too far.”

Emir Hodzic, a leading human rights activist explains how unemployment, low pensions and the lack of prospects are fueling the protests.

“If you put those things together you get dangerous mix, a people’s Molotov cocktail."

Protesters say they will meet soon to create a united platform.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people packed into a Sarajevo University cafe to voice their ideas.

After the meeting ended with no clear way forward, Leyla, 39, said, “It’s difficult to manage a grassroots organization against such a heavy top down administration.” She declined to provide her last name.

Meanwhile, Ahmetasevic says she’s worried police may attack and arrest the activists.

“How it will look and how it will end,” she says, “no one knows.”

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Demonstrators march through central Sarajevo on Monday holding a sign that reads "Police are the guardians of powerful gangs" and demanding the resignations of political leaders. Activists report rampant corruption by politicians, who take huge salaries while ordinary people suffer from mass unemployment, unpaid salaries and slashed pensions.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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A woman confronts police in Sarajevo on Sunday, demanding the release of protesters who were arrested over the weekend following Friday's outbreak of violence. Local media reported police detained more than 44 people in recent days.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Young and old protesters gathered together to make signs Sarajevo on Saturday at a gathering outside the city's municipal building, which sustained heavy damage after protesters attacked it and set it on fire.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Peace activist Valentina Pellizzer, comforts her son, Luan, 9, after police charged at protesters who were trying to block a police van on Saturday. "The ninja are against the people!" she said.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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The day after violent protests shook several Bosnian cities, passersby survey the damage around the municipal building. Protesters burned two government buildings and cars. Police retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets. One video that circulated shows police beating protesters.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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A policeman patrols outside Sarajevo's municipal building.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Bosnians rally for the release of protesters in front of the Prosecutor's Office building in Sarajevo on Saturday.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Protesters argue with police in Sarajevo on Saturday outside the city's municipal building. It sustained heavy damage after protesters attacked it and set it on fire.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Bosnians stopped traffic for several hours as they rallied for the release of protesters in Sarajevo on Sunday.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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An elderly woman presents discarded pieces of raw meat during protests in Sarajevo on Saturday outside the city's municipal building.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Riot police stand guard in Sarajevo's business district preventing protesters from blocking a busy main street on Sunday.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Bascarsija at dusk. The Ottoman bazaar area dates back to the 15th century.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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Protesters gathered in central Sarajevo on Tuesday to block traffic as protests continued into their second week.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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The day after violent protests shook several Bosnian cities, a woman looks out from inside a tram toward Sarajevo's damaged municipal building on Saturday.

(Jodi Hilton - GlobalPost)
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