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News 18 May 16

RS Opposition Fears Interference From Serbia

The opposition bloc in Republika Srpska is concerned that Belgrade is openly supporting their rivals - and might try to determine the results of upcoming local elections in Bosnia.

Rodolfo Toe, Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Sarajevo, Belgrade
 
 Serb Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: BETA.

The opposition bloc in Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia, is becoming increasingly worried about Serbia's possible influence on the power battle in the RS and the outcome of local elections due on October 2.

Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor of the Banja Luka-based website Buka, told BIRN that Belgrade is showing increasing support for the current government of the RS and for the President of the entity, Milorad Dodik.

"In the past weeks, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has increased his support for Milorad Dodik, as the latter is currently the strongest player in the RS," Trifunovic noted.

Marko Kmezic, senior researcher at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, in Austria, agreed and noted that Serbia had not given up its influence in the RS.

"Cooperation between Vucic and Dodik is pragmatic and based on mutual interest," Kmezic noted, adding that both politicians need support "across the Drina" - the river border between Bosnia and Serbia - in order to gain internal legitimacy and the support of voters.

Trifunovic and Kmezic said Serbia still feels it needs to stand beside the strongest bloc in RS, to maintain stability in the country.

Trifunovic said this attitude of support for the authorities became particularly evident during the run-up to protests organised on May 14 in Banja Luka by both opposition and government supporters in the entity.

In the days leading up the demonstration, Dodik repeatedly called on the opposition to cancel its protest, claiming that it would create major security concerns.

"Vucic openly helped the RS government when he said that Serbia had information that extremists were ready to create disorder during the rallies," Trifunovic noted.

On Tuesday, leaders from the RS opposition bloc, the Alliance for Change, organised a press conference in Belgrade where they complained about "the incredible amount of lies coming from Belgrade and the Belgrade media [about the May 14 protests]".

Mladen Bosic told the conference: "First, the opposition organised a peaceful rally ... then Dodik immediately called for a counter-protest.

"This decision represented an open threat of possible clashes, whose final aim was to cancel our protest," he added.

Immediately after the protests ended, Vucic congratulated "all political actors for having shown their democratic potential", and expressed his desire "for a stable and prosper RS", the Serbian media reported.

Vucic's appeal for calm and stability was not entirely welcomed by the opposition in the RS where some saw it as interference.

Zeljko Raljic, editor of the Banja Luka newspaper Istinito, said: "By going to Belgrade, Bosic and the other leaders from the opposition in the RS are sending the Serbian government and media the message that they will not tolerate any interference in the election campaign in the entity".

Leaders of the Alliance for Change also criticised the Serbian media, which gave much space to claims that the opposition protest was directly financed by the Open Society Foundation, founded and funded by US businessman George Soros.

Bosic said the so-called documents proving this claim had been falsified and that he had not expected such behaviour from the media in Serbia.

"All this looked like an organised campaign, conducted in Serbia, in order to avoid any protest in Banja Luka," Bosic said.

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