Bosnians protest over row that leaves babies in ID limbo

SARAJEVO Tue Jun 11, 2013 4:34pm BST

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Around 5,000 Bosnians marched in Sarajevo on Tuesday to voice growing public anger over political paralysis, symbolised by the case of a baby who had to wait to travel abroad for a stem-cell transplant because authorities could not assign her an ID number.

It was the largest in a week of protests in the Bosnian capital sparked by the failure of lawmakers to agree new legislation on citizen ID numbers. The row has left babies born since February unregistered, and therefore denied passports or medical cards.

Students, pensioners and jobless Bosnians linked arms and blew whistles in downtown Sarajevo, furious at the squabbling between rival Serb, Croat and Muslim lawmakers that continues to characterise government in Bosnia since the end of its 1992-95 war.

Banners read, "The young want unity" and "Enough patience".

"We are all endangered here and need to be united," said Amira Kalajdzic, a 74-year-old pensioner. "It's unbelievable, that they could deprive us of basic rights to health and life."

The protests began last week when it emerged on Facebook that a 3-month-old baby was unable to leave for Germany for an urgent stem-cell transplant because lawmakers had been unable to agree how to redraw the districts that determine the 13-digit identification numbers assigned to each citizen.

A court suspended the registration of new citizens in February, pending a political agreement that has yet to come. Lawmakers agreed last week to an interim measure for the next few months, which allowed the 3-month-old to travel, but the protesters say they want a permanent solution.

The row has emerged as the most egregious example of the ethnic politicking that has plagued Bosnia since the end of a war in which some 100,000 people died. A U.S.-brokered peace deal left the country with a weak central government and a byzantine system of ethnic quotas that is vulnerable to abuse by party interests.

The glacial pace of change has left Bosnia languishing behind its fellow former Yugoslav republics in the queue to join the European Union. Neighbouring Croatia will join on July 1, but Bosnia has yet to even apply. Unemployment is close to 30 percent.

"These protests show that the citizens have had enough," said Srdjan Dizdarevic, head of the Bosnian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. "They realise that arguments are not enough to make the authorities reform, and that only street pressure can have an impact."

The protesters urged Bosnia's international peace envoy, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, to use his considerable powers to impose a solution. Inzko declined in a statement, reflecting a more hands-off approach by foreign powers in recent years.

He said, however: "The demonstrations ... should be a wake-up call for the political class as a whole and individual politicians regardless of party affiliation .... to deliver the results that will take the country forward."

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Mark Trevelyan)

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