Bosnian-Serb Police Ban Anti-Government Rallies, Target Activist

(Bloomberg) -- Police in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s second-largest city banned protests and issued an arrest warrant for a man whose search for answers about his son’s death has triggered a wave of anti-government street demonstrations.

Protests have grown this month in Banja Luka over authorities’ failure to solve the case of 21-year-old David Dragicevic, whose body was found on a river bank in March. His father, Davor, who has disputed an official finding that his son killed himself, has led rallies calling for Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik’s interior minister to resign, with thousands of people again taking to the streets on Sunday.

Mayor Igor Radojicic announced the city would cancel New Year’s celebrations on Monday and called for the case to be solved. Shortly after the decision, police issued arrest warrants for Dragicevic and four other people for unspecified criminal acts, the N1 broadcaster reported.

“There will be no concerts tonight,” Radojicic told media on Monday. “For the first time since the war, Banja Luka will be silent on New Year’s Eve.” The decision is a message to authorities “to resolve the Dragicevic case,” he said.

Banja Luka is the administrative center of the Republika Srpska, the de-facto capital of the Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which also includes the Bosnian-Croat Federation.

Dodik, whose party controls the Republika Srpska’s government, accused his political opponents of abusing the “Justice for David” rallies and said he supported banning protests so life in the city can return to normal, the ATV broadcaster reported. Police issued separate statements, including the one banning future protests, citing violations of public law and order. Protesters also gathered on Sunday in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital.

“The response reveals the nervousness of the regime,” said Florian Bieber, a professor at the University of Graz in Austria and director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies. “The protests reflect the deep distrust in government.”

While the former Yugoslav republic remains divided along ethnic lines, its entities have struggled to recover from the violent 1990s breakup of the former federation. Political tensions between them are preventing the full functioning of the country, souring its chances of getting closer to the goal of joining the European Union.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.