Croats tear down signs put up for Serb minority

Reuters

ZAGREB (Reuters) - Several hundred Croat protesters tore down signs in Serb Cyrillic script that were put up on Monday in a Croatian city devastated during the independence war with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, state radio said.

The signs were put up in Vukovar in line with a law in the newest European Union member that makes bilingual signs mandatory in any area where more than one third of the local population belongs to an ethnic minority group.

Vukovar was reduced to rubble during a three-month siege by Yugoslav and Serbian forces in late 1991. Though rebuilt, the town remains poor, with high unemployment and ethnic tensions.

"The protesters managed to overcome the police protection and smash new signs in Cyrillic on the local tax office and police station in Vukovar," the state news agency Hina reported.

Police said four policemen suffered light injuries in a brawl with protesters who dispersed after destroying the Cyrillic signs.

The Croatian and Serbian languages are mutually intelligible, but Croats use Latin script while Serbs, like Russians or Bulgarians, use Cyrillic. Some Croats see Cyrillic as a reminder of fighting with the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian militias in the 1991-95 war of independence.

Public Administration Minister Arsen Bauk told reporters that the events in Vukovar were clearly "politically motivated", but did not say what could be the further steps.

"According to some announcements in the past months, we could expect there would be protests. I believe there will be enough time in the coming days and weeks for political discussions in relation to bilingual signs in Vukovar," he said.

Last April some 20,000 Croats protested on Zagreb's main square against a plan to introduce Cyrillic signs in Vukovar threatening to prevent such action.

Croatia already has bilingual signs, in Croatian and Italian, in the northern Adriatic Istrian peninsula close to Italy. Bilingual signs have not met resistance in a dozen other areas in Croatia with a sizeable Serb minority.

(Reporting by Igor Ilic; editing by R%alph Boulton)

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