Bosnian protesters hold anti-pollution protest in Sarajevo

SARAJEVO, Bosnia — Dozens of people on Monday gathered for a protest in Sarajevo because of dangerously high levels of air pollution in the past few weeks in the Bosnian capital.

Some of the participants wore face masks at the rally Monday held outside the building hosting Sarajevo’s government.

Organizers say they want to encourage people into action and draw public attention to the decades-old problem typical for the city that is squeezed in a deep valley among the mountains.

Air pollution measurements in the past weeks have shown that levels of damaging airborne particles have exceeded European Union’s safety norms by several times.

Local authorities had introduced emergency measures for days last week, urging citizens not to use coal and wood for heating and banning diesel cars.

Local head of government Edin Forto told the protesters that the situation can’t change in a few months, but will take much longer. He said the citizens, too, should do their part.

“A lot of people refuse to change their routine,” he said. “They don’t want us to stop the traffic or cancel classes (because of pollution), so we need to work to raise awareness.”

Later on Monday, a group of foreign ambassadors and international officials held a meeting with the Sarajevo authorities focusing on the pollution, Klix news portal reported. Photos posted on Twitter by British Ambassador Matthew Field showed the officials wearing face masks.

“Good steps are being taken, but more determined action is needed on all levels,” Field tweeted.

Experts say air pollution in the Balkans is heavy because of the use of coal-fueled power plants and old cars and many other factors. In the past week, thick fog added to the problem.

A report last year by the U.N. Environment Program said people living in the Western Balkans lose up to 1.3 years of life to air pollution.

Experts have warned that these and other environmental setbacks could stall efforts by Bosnia and other Balkan countries to join the EU.

Eldar Emric, The Associated Press