Hundreds of military veterans from across Bosnia's ethnic divide began a hunger strike on Wednesday in a dispute with the government over payout of long-overdue pensions.
Some 1,750 Serb, Muslim and Croat soldiers were forced to retire in 2010 in an effort to rejuvenate Bosnia's armed forces formed after the 1992-95 that tore the country apart.
They were promised pensions ahead of a parliamentary election in October 2010. But they were never paid, and the government's draft budget for 2012 makes no provision for them.
Around 1,500 launched a protest outside the government building in downtown Sarajevo on Tuesday.
Senad Hubjer, a representative of the veterans, said the government had asked for more time to see if it could rework the draft budget for 2012. The ex-soldiers had launched a hunger strike, he said. "There is no more time," Hubjer told Reuters.
"We are ready to die of hunger in front of the government offices if it fails to include the spending for our pensions in this year's budget," Hubjer said.
The veterans braved a cold night on the pavement outside the government building, some of them wrapped in the national flag of Bosnia.
Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda has said the government will try to find a solution to the dispute, but it appears his hands are tied.
Bosnia is under pressure to keep spending down if it is to clinch a new standby loan deal with the International Monetary Fund. The Bosnian Serbs are also opposed to an increase in the central budget.
Around 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war before the country was split along ethnic lines into two autonomous regions - the Serb Republic and the Federation comprising mainly Muslims and Croats.
An inconclusive election in 2010 led to more than a year of political paralysis as rival ethnic leaders argued over to form a national government. The impasse was broken at the end of 2011 and a government was elected in February.
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