Bosnia clerics 'stir up' tension

Bosnia's religious leaders have been stirring up ethnic tensions by lobbying for nationalist parties ahead of local elections, a human rights group says.

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights says Bosnian Muslim leaders, Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs have been "directing" voters.

Their support for the country's three main nationalist parties has promoted nationalist sentiment, the group says.

Council and mayoral elections are due to take place on Saturday.

Turbulent past

The group says religious leaders have used opportunities such as the opening of new houses of worship and celebrations of historical national events to remind their followers of Bosnia's turbulent ethnic past.

As a result, nationalist party candidates frequently did not attend televised debates because they "probably thought that what the religious officials were doing for their own promotion was sufficient", the group says.

The country's three main nationalist parties are the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), a Muslim block; the Serb Democratic Party (SDS); and the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ).

The campaign has passed without serious incidents and in a democratic atmosphere, the Helsinki Committee says, but it expressed concern at low voter interest.

This weekend's elections will be the first to be fully funded and organised by the Bosnian authorities since the end of the 1992-1995 Balkans war.