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By Miran Jelenek
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Thousands of pensioners from across Bosnia's Bosniak-Croat Federation, most of whom live on the edge of poverty, took to the streets in Sarajevo on Wednesday to protest for a rise in pensions and better social and health care.
Out of about 410,000 pensioners living in the Bosnian region, nearly two-thirds live on minimum payments of 326 Bosnian marka ($196) a month, while the average pension amounts to 370 marka compared to an average wage of 870 marka.
With five pensioners to every six employed people in the Bosnian region, the government, which has yet to come up with an overall reform plan for the pension system, is struggling to make payments on time. Some pension fund officials say the system survives on low pensions, which are the lowest in the Balkans.
The pensioners, some carrying placards reading "Stop the Robbery" and "Give Us back Our Dignity", called for a 10 percent rise in payments which have not been increased since 2014.
"Pensions are low, medicines expensive and we have to pay electricity, water, telephone," said Alosman Halic from the northern town of Lukavac, who has worked for 45 years and receives 326 marka pension.
"After we pay our bills, there is nothing left for us," says his wife Isura, adding they could not survive without help from their children.
Youth unemployment is high at more than 60 percent, scores of young people having left the Balkan country which was left impoverished by the 1992-95 war and is riven by political and ethnic divisions.
On Tuesday, the Federation government adopted a new draft pension law, envisaging a 10 percent rise of pensions for some categories and five percent increase for other categories.
The law now needs to be approved by the region's parliament, where the passage of laws is often blocked over political bickering.
The situation is also grave in the Serb Republic, Bosnia's other autonomous region, where the level of employed is almost equal with that of retired people. Earlier this month, the government there decided to raise the minimum pension to 360 marka.
(1$ = 1.663 Bosnian marka)
(additional reporting and writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Richard Balmforth)