May 30, 2020 / 3:12 PM / 2 months ago

Bosnians protest as officials accused of COVID-19 graft

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Thousands of Bosnians took to the streets on Saturday to protest against bad governance, nationalism and corruption as senior government officials face graft accusations related to the procurement of defective ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Mirsad Hadzikadic, President of the Platform for Progress party, attends a protest against corruption and a delayed election in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The protest was organised by a small moderate party, the Platform for Progress, and joined by leaders of other opposition groups.

“What we are hoping to do is to wake the people up so that they know it is up to them, that they can actually bring about change,” party leader Mirsad Hadzikadic told Reuters as he led the march.

People wearing masks, some pushing baby buggies, marched peacefully from Sarajevo’s Old Town to the national parliament building. Many carried yellow balloons with the Bosnian flag.

“I am fed up with everything, with all this rhetoric and nationalism,” said fashion designer Jasna Hadzimehmedovic-Bekric. “This is all nonsense, covering up for big thefts that have been going on for the past 30 years and we are silent.”

Bosnia has been plagued by corruption scandals, often linked to officials from the ruling parties, but most of them have not been charged.

“Decision-making is in the hands of three people who are heading the three major parties and not in the institutions of the country,” said Hadzikadic, a U.S. university professor who ran unsuccessfully to become a member of Bosnia’s presidency in 2018.

He said the protesters wanted elections that are not rigged and an end to corruption.

Local elections scheduled for Oct. 4 have been postponed for more than a month due to a lack of funding after the government had failed to pass a 2020 budget.

In the latest corruption scandal, the premier of Bosnia’s autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation, Fadil Novalic, has denied accusations of irregularities in the procurement of the Chinese ventilators.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Giles Elgood

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