Workers demand that Bosnian coke plant threatened with closure stays online

 Workers demand that Bosnian coke plant threatened with closure stays online

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Hundreds of workers at the Balkans' leading metallurgical coke producer took to the streets of Sarajevo on Friday in protest after the company was ordered to halt production due to environmental concerns.

Local authorities say Global Ispat Koksna Industrija Lukavac (GIKIL), majority owned by Dubai-based Global Steel Holdings Ltd (GSH) and linked to India's wealthy Mittal family, has breached environmental standards.

The company, based in the northern town of Lukavac, employs 1,000 people who now fear they may lose their jobs.

"We shall not allow production to be halted," said Hajrudin Hodzic, a member of the company's trade union, standing before hundreds of his co-workers who blew whistles and sirens in front of the regional government building in Sarajevo.

Some of the workers, who were bussed in from Lukavac to Sarajevo, carried placards reading "Jobs = Protection of Environment Together" and "We Defended the State, We Will Defend GIKIL Too".

GIKIL is Bosnia's fourth biggest exporter, selling to Europe and Asia. It has said it is taking steps to improve environmental standards.

In August, Bosnian authorities gave the plant a 30-day deadline to gradually suspend operations in order to prevent major environmental damage and detained its general manager, who was later released.[L8N1VF3BK]

After the warning, GIKIL implemented new security measures and invested about 3 million euros ($3.4 million) as a first step to improve environmental standards at the plant, its management said.

However, last week an inspectorate in Bosnia's autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation issued a final order for GIKIL to stop production indefinitely, after accusing the company of discharging toxic liquid waste into the nearby Spreca river, a tributary of the Sava, which flows through Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.

"We have asked for this decision to be postponed," Hodzic told Reuters.

"We can keep production on a so-called warm-regime but not for long," he said. Putting the operation back online would be complicated and costly and mean lost market share for the company which exports 100 percent of its output.

The Federation government said in a statement that it was not authorised to intervene in the case of a company that is majority privately owned. It called on GIKIL owners and management to abide by the law.

($1 = 0.8807 euros)

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2018 00:08:22 IST