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news 18 May 17

Mine Sale Failure Stuns Bosnian Serb Leader Dodik

Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik has suffered a major blow from the collapse of the planned sale of the Ljubija mine to Israeli bidders.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu.

MPs in the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, delivered a stunning blow to Milorad Dodik’s government on Wednesday when they failed to back a plan to sell a key iron ore mine to Israeli purchasers.

Of 80 MPs present in the chamber, only 39 backed the sale of the Ljubija mine to the Israelis, while 34 MPs were opposed and seven abstained.

The outcome of the vote was widely seen a major defeat for Republika Srpska President Dodik.

“Dodik has suffered a hard, brutal knock-down from which there is no recovery,” analyst Slobodan Vaskovic said in a blog post.

Other analysts say the turn of events raised fresh questions about the future of Dodik’s ruling coalition, which - at least on this issue – has lost its majority in the chamber - and has also lost the chance of getting hold of cash that was badly needed.

The sale of the mine has been troubling the ruling coalition for years. Dodik’s government wanted to sell it to the highest bidder, Israeli Investment Group, an unknown offshore company with little or no experience in digging ore.

Dodik’s key ally in the ruling coalition, the Democratic National Union, DNS, of Marko Pavic, strongly opposed the Israeli bidder and favoured the sale of the mine to the second-highest bidder, Arcelor Mittal.

Critics of Dodik said his close friend, the RS representative in Israel, Israeli politician Arie Livne, had lobbied hard for the Israeli group and had pushed Dodik into promoting the deal.

However, the DNS proved equally determined to block this sale, not only because of reported links between Pavic and Arcelor Mittal but also due to concerns that sale of the mine to Israelis would lead to the withdrawal of Mittal from its other nearby mine, in Omarska.

This would affect the jobs of thousands of people in the wider area of Prijedor town, where Pavic was once mayor and which remains a DNS stronghold.

The vote on Wednesday followed two days of heated debates in the chamber. Several hundred workers from Prijedor also gathered in front of the assembly before the vote, protesting against the Israeli purchaser.

Some 50 workers walked on foot for 50 kilometres from Prijedor to Banja Luka to join the protests, while four workers on Tuesday started a hunger strike in front of the building.

The vote on this controversial issue was therefore seen as a test of strength for the ruling coalition.

Until the vote took place, no one was sure whether the DNS would cave in and vote alongside Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, and the Socialist Party.

But before the vote started, Pavic assured reporters that the DNS leadership would not allow him to accept the sale of Ljubija to Israelis.

“For now, I am worrying about Ljubija. I will think and decide about the coalition later,” he warned.

The RS opposition bloc, which also voted against the Israeli sale, has been making use of growing cracks within the ruling coalition to try to win over the DNS. If this occurred, it would topple the RS government.

Angered by the outcome of the vote, Dodik told the media that the decision would harm Republika Srpska, adding that it would be interesting to find out who exactly voted against the government’s proposal.

He failed to explain how the RS government would survive without more than 40 million euros, the price that the Israelis were ready to pay.

In line with the opposition bloc request from earlier this week, the RS National Assembly later on Wednesday set May 31 as the date for a no-confidence vote against the RS government.

This will be the first big test of the stability of the RS government after it suffered a major blow with the collapse of the planned sale of Ljubija mine to Israeli purchases.

Vaskovic said the government was now living on borrowed time.

“Nothing will remain the same, neither in the government nor in the opposition,” he said. The RS government had effectively fallen even if it “remains on a life-support system for some more time”, he concluded.

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