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Bosnian Serbs approve controversial public holiday

Bosnian Serbs vote on'national holiday' in challenge to Sarajevo

Republika Srpska's President Milorad Dodik said in Banjaluka Tuesday he had requested the deputy club of his Alliance of Independent Social Democrats in the RS assembly to initiate an assessment of the constitutionality of March 1, the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Independence Day.

Bosnia is still split along ethnic lines between the mainly-Serb entity and a Muslim-Croat federation. Organisers said the first preliminary results were expected within 48 hours after the vote.

Only 0.19% of voters objected to keeping January 9 as statehood day, while 2,264 invalid ballots were cast. It said the annual commemoration discriminates against non-Serb, including Muslims in the area.

The vote was held by the authorities in Republika Srpska, the largely Serb half of Bosnia, despite being ruled illegal by the country's constitutional court and criticised internationally. The EU has also condemned the referendum.

The vote was whether to keep January 9 as a holiday in Republika Srpska, commemorating the day in 1992 that Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state, igniting the ruinous 1992-95 war. It was Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II.

The Serb minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina have gone ahead with a referendum over a disputed national holiday, defying a ruling by the country's highest court against staging the vote.

"The Republic is going into a referendum".

But, Dodik may be counting on diplomatic support that will not be forthcoming; the Russian Kommersant daily cited government sources on Monday to suggest Moscow is not prepared to take a stronger pro-Serb position than Serbia itself in Bosnia.

"In this entity [Republika Srpska], there are people who are preventing the Dayton Peace Agreement implementation because they prevented the implementation of decisions of the [Bosnian] Constitutional Court", Salkic said.

Bosnian Serbs are voting on whether to keep 9 January as a national holiday in defiance of Bosnia's highest court.

Western diplomats warn that the referendum violates the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian War.

"There will be no war, nobody will destroy Republika Srpska", said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak chairman of the country's three-man inter-ethnic presidency. Talk of a new war has increased tensions, prompting the Serb Republic police to raise the security level at the weekend.

"Who wants to celebrate it should and who doesn't does not have to", he said.

"Today we have written one more page of our glorious history and we said that we are people who fight for freedom... for the rights of the Republic", Republika Srpska's President Milorad Dodik is quoted as telling a crowd in the town of Pale.