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Violence flares at Bosnia ceremony

Banja Luka mosque protests
Police sealed off the area around the mosque  

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia -- Bosnian Serb police have used tear gas and water cannons to beat back protesters trying to disrupt a mosque rebuilding ceremony.

Hundreds of Bosnian Serbs shouting anti-Muslim slogans attacked police with stones, injuring at least a dozen officers as the groundbreaking ceremony at the 16th century mosque in the northwestern town of Banja Luka went ahead, the Associated Press reported.

A Bosnian Serb police official, Drago Gasesa, told AP one policeman was in serious condition and 12 others were slightly injured. More than 60 protesters have been arrested, he said.

At a glance: BosniaHerzegovina

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It was the second time violence has marred efforts to formally mark the re-establishment of Muslim religious life in the part of Bosnia now controlled by Serbs, who are largely Orthodox Christian.

A month ago rioters in Banja Luka killed a Muslim man and forced the postponement of the cornerstone ceremony for the Ferhadija mosque.

During Bosnia's 1992-95 war, Serbs expelled Muslims from Banja Luka and destroyed the city's mosques with the Ferhadija, a UNESCO worldwide cultural heritage monument, levelled on May 7, 1993.

As part of a policy encouraging reconciliation and the return of refugees, international officials ordered the reconstruction of the mosque on the eighth anniversary of its destruction.

Bosnia mosque protest
Officials said one policeman was seriously injured in the protest  

On Monday, hundreds of police in full riot gear sealed off the site to ensure the rescheduled ceremony proceeded. They also warned demonstrators they would be videotaped and the tapes would be used as evidence if crimes were committed.

"Let this mosque be a bridge of reconciliation between Muslims and Christians," the head of Bosnia's Islamic Community Mustafa Efendi Ceric said at the ceremony, Reuters reported.

Mirko Sarovic, the nationalist President of the Bosnian Serb republic, which together with the Muslim-Croat federation makes up Bosnia, participated in the ceremony having refused to attend last month.

None of the guests -- who included Muslim clerics, Bosnian officials and Western diplomats -- appeared to be affected by the ensuing violence.

A total of 618 mosques throughout Bosnia were destroyed during the bloody ethnic conflict that left up to 200,000 dead.

• Bosnian Herzegovina Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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