Bosnia: Thousands protest recount of vote in Serb-run region

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people rallied in Bosnia Tuesday to demand that electoral authorities end a recount of ballots from a contested general election this month and confirm a staunchly pro-Russian politician as president of the country’s Serb-run part.

The protesters carried photos of Bosnian Serb politician Milorad Dodik and waved flags of his SNSD party, accusing the country’s multi-ethnic central election commission of attempting to subvert the will of Serb people to choose him as their leader.

“Never again will (Bosnian Serb) votes be counted in Sarajevo,” Dodik said in an address to the rally, pledging to fight for Serbs’ right to “choose how we want to live.”

After accusing Western and non-Serb Bosnian politicians of “hating” and “trying to erase” Bosnia’s Serb-run administrative part, Republika Srpska, Dodik said he will continue to lead the region as its president.

“We do not want (Bosnia) … I strongly believe in the idea of an independent Republika Srpska,” he added.

Dodik has claimed victory in the Oct. 2 race for the president of Republika Srpska, but his main contender, Jelena Trivic, insisted he had rigged the vote and claimed she was the winner.

The October election included races for all levels of government in the Balkan country’s Serb-dominated and Bosniak-Croat parts, as well as for the joint central institutions that link the two.

Under Bosnia’s electoral rules, votes are counted at polling stations by workers appointed by the country’s central election commission but who are all nominated by political parties and coalitions running in an election. The election commission collects the poll station tallies, examines them for irregularities and runs recounts where necessary before certifying the results or ordering a vote rerun.

Responding to widespread reports of irregularities and problems at polling stations, the commission ordered earlier this month that all ballots cast in the race for the president of Republika Srpska be shipped to the central vote-counting center in the capital of Sarajevo to be tallied anew and further examined.

As that recount was dragging on, the commission confirmed over the weekend the results for all other electoral contests. It also notified judicial authorities of a few dozen fake ballots found so far during the recount.

Dodik has ruled practically unchallenged for years, despite being sanctioned by the West for advocating the separation of Republika Srpska from the rest of Bosnia. Russia has backed Dodik, fueling fears in the West that Moscow might try to create further instability in the volatile Balkan country to divert some attention from its war in Ukraine.

Separatist ambitions among ethnic Serbs sparked Bosnia’s devastating 1992-95 war which killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions and shattered the country for years to come. A U.S.-brokered peace agreement that ended the war created the Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities, tied loosely by joint institutions.

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