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Bosnia's local polls marred by inter-ethnic disputes

A man walks past election posters in Srebrenica, October 6, 2012. Bosnians will vote on Sunday in local elections likely to keep in power nationalist parties reflecting ethnic rivalries, 17 years after war ended. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

SARAJEVO: Polling stations opened throughout Bosnia on Sunday for a municipal vote expected to be won by nationalists among the three main ethnic communities: Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

More than 3.1 million voters were to cast their ballots to elect local councils and mayors in the Balkan country, but all eyes are turned toward the eastern town of Srebrenica where Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys and expelled thousands of civilians.

New electoral rules have paved the way for the Serb community to win the office, a move that has fueled inter-ethnic disputes in the town that has become a gruesome symbol of Bosnia's bloody 1992-1995 war.

Local Muslim politicians complained that they have been abandoned by the international community, while their Serb opponents keep on denying the 1995 genocide, despite the rulings of two international courts.

With an unemployment rate of almost 44 percent and an average monthly salary of around 420 euros ($546), political bickering has often grabbed the media spotlight, particularly in the southern town of Mostar, where the polls will not be held as local Muslim and Croat parties have failed to agree on new electoral rules.

The international community imposed rules in 2004 in Mostar in a vain bid to achieve reunification of the divided town, but they were annulled in January by Bosnia's constitutional court.

The court found the rules were discriminatory for certain voters in the town that has been divided between its Muslim and Croat population since the end of the 1992-1995 war.

Some 550 candidates, including 40 women, are running for 140 mayoral posts, while more than 30,000 candidates, 35 percent of them women, are contesting seats in the local councils, the electoral commission said.

Throughout the country, some 5,100 polling stations in 136 municipalities will close at 1700 GMT. First results are expected by midnight.

 

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