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Serbs Again Target Mosque

Bosnian Serbs hurled stones and trash, injuring 13 policemen, as they tried to disrupt a ceremony Monday marking reconstruction of a historic mosque.

Police in Banja Luka responded by firing tear gas and water cannon at the hundreds of protesters, who oppose reconstruction of the 16th century Ferhadija mosque destroyed by Serbs during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

The clashes left one policeman in serious condition and a dozen others slightly injured, said Drago Gasesa, a Bosnian Serb police official. More than 60 demonstrators were arrested.

It was the second time demonstrators had tried to disrupt the cornerstone-laying ceremony in Banja Luka, the administrative center for the Serb-run half of the country.

Trouble In The Balkans
After four wars in 11 years, ethnic and political tensions and open violence remain a fact in life in several of the republics that once made up Yugoslavia:

In Kosovo, ethnic Albanians and Serbs occasionally clash, and Serbs rioted recently over U.N. imposed taxes. There is continuing division over whether to hand Slobodan Milosevic to the international war crimes tribunal.

Serbia's partner in the Yugoslav federation is split over whether to declare independence or not.

In addition to the riots over repatriation of Muslims into parts of the Bosnian Serb republic, ethic Croat hardliners are gaining strength in the Muslim-Croat federation.

Government forces have launched a second offensive against ethnic Albanian guerillas whom they accuse of fighting to create an independent Albanian state within Macedonia.

Last month, nationalists broke through a police cordon protecting foreign diplomats and several hundred former Muslim residents of Banja Luka who came to attend the event. One elderly Muslim man died and 30 others were seriously injured. Several buses and vehicles were torched, and police arrested dozens of people.
Click here to learn more about the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Despite Monday's demonstration, the ceremony was completed this time.

During the war, Serbs expelled Muslims from Banja Luka and destroyed all the city's mosques — including its most famous, the Ferhadija mosque. The 16th century mosque was declared a worldwide cultural heritage monument by UNESCO.

International officials ordered the mosque's reconstruction as part of efforts to foster reconciliation and encourage refugees to return.

Police had warned demonstrators Monday they would be videotaped and that the tapes would be used as evidence if crimes were committed.

The 1995 peace accords left Bosnia formally one nation, but split it into a Serb half and another shared by Croats and Muslims.

Banja Luka, in northwest Bosnia, is the heartland of the Bosnian Serb republic, where most Muslim and Croat residents were expelled in violent wartime ethnic cleansing campaigns. Many local people fiercely oppose the return of non-Serbs.

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