Opposition parties win major cities in Bosnia local elections

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Opposition parties proclaimed victory on Sunday in mayoral elections in Bosnia's largest cities, Sarajevo and Banja Luka, defeating long-ruling nationalists and setting a trend that analysts say may be followed in the general election in 2022.

Nationalist Serb, Croat and Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) parties have held power for most of the period since the end of the country's 1992-1995 war, each creating powerful networks of patronage.

But criticism of the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and corruption surrounding the purchase of medical equipment has strengthened support for moderate parties among voters tired of ethnic divisions, nepotism and corruption.

Fifty percent of about 3.1 million registered voters turned out to cast ballots for town and municipal councils and mayors in Bosnia's two autonomous regions - the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic - as well as in the neutral Brcko district, according to election authorities.

The central election commission will come out with official results at midnight (2300 GMT).

The Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) conceded it had lost mayors in all but one municipality of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where the candidates of a coalition of four moderate parties won three out of four mayor's offices.

In Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the Serb Republic, the opposition Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) won the job of mayor, sidelining the ruling SNSD party of the Bosnian presidency's Serb member Milorad Dodik for the first time in nearly two decades.

The voters in the northern town of Tuzla re-elected the mayor from the moderate Social Democratic Party (SDP).

In the divided southern town of Mostar, where the last local vote took place in 2012, the election will be held on Dec. 20, after the ruling Bosniak and Croat political parties agreed on election rules under international pressure.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Peter Cooney)