Bosnia's Srpska Republic on Sunday defied the country’s authorities and the West by voting in a referendum banned by the Constitutional court and condemned by both the European Union and United States.
According to Srpska state-run television, 99.8 per cent of those who turned out voted to keep January 9 as the Statehood Day of the Srpska Republic, the Serb-dominated half of Bosnia, a holiday that was also banned by the same court.
The court ordered Srpska to move the holiday because it marked the anniversary of another referendum the Serbs held, in 1992, in which they declared secession from Bosnia, contributing to the start of a war that claimed 100,000 lives before it ended in late 1995.
The date outraged the other two main ethnic groups in Bosnia – the Catholic Croats and particularly the Muslim Bosniaks.
The Bosniaks suffered the most casualties and the worst atrocities during the war, including the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, a mostly Muslim town on the Srpska territory.
The referendum has rekindled worries about Bosnian stability. The ethnic groups mistrust and block each other, preventing the reforms the EU and US have been demanding for years, in order to transform Bosnia’s complicated, inefficient governing system.
The Bosniaks and the West worry that the nationalist Serb leader Milorad Dodik has forced the referendum as a test balloon in preparation for the split of the Srpska Republic from Bosnia.
Russia, on the other hand, has voiced support for the referendum as "the right of people in Srpska to decide on key issues."
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Nearly all who went to the polls in a disputed referendum on the Bosnian Serb entity's official holiday voted for keeping marking 9 January as the entity's holiday, according to returns from a third of polling stations.
Some 625,000 people went to the polls until 1700 hrs Sunday for a disputed referendum which the Bosnian Serb leadership organised despite the country's Constitutional Ccurt ban, and thus before the closing of polling stations set for 1900 hrs, the number of voters that turned out for the referendum exceeded the threshold of 50%.
Polling stations throughout the Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina opened at 7 am Sunday for a referendum vote on whether residents of the Serb entity are in favour of celebrating the entity day on 9 January, despite the state-level Constitutional Court's decision to declare the holiday illegal and despite the court's recent ban on the referendum.