SARAJEVO, Nov 12 (Reuters) Bosnia's three-man presidency accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Spiric today, signalling the start of difficult talks on a new cabinet and possible early elections in the divided country.
Spiric will remain caretaker PM while the country's three rival ethnic groups -- Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims -- try to find a compromise candidate for prime minister. If they cannot agree, the country must hold a general election.
Haris Silajdzic, the presidency's Muslim member, told reporters the presidency had tried to dissuade Spiric, but in the end had to accept his resignation.
''We are launching consultations with parties for a new cabinet,'' Silajdzic said. ''We have 30 days to propose a new prime minister-designate.'' Spiric, an ethnic Serb, resigned on Nov 1 in protest at external ''meddling'', saying a recent measure by international peace envoy Miroslav Lajcak infringed on the autonomy the Bosnian Serbs got at the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
''The more I worked, the more the international community tried to bypass me,'' Spiric told reporters after the meeting.
Lajcak revamped voting rules in the country's central government last month, saying he aimed to end frequent deadlocks between parties from the country's two halves, the Serb Republic and Muslim-Croat federation.
NO LEADERSHIP Whoever is nominated PM-designate has to propose a cabinet and win parliamentary approval. If a deal is not reached, the country must hold a parliamentary election, further delaying reforms the European Union says are needed for Bosnia to progress towards EU membership.
''This is a real crisis,'' said political analyst Ivan Barbalic.
He doubted the presidents would agree on a new PM and feared Bosnia would have no leadership at a critical time.
''Ahead of the UN's decision on the mandate of (Bosnia's eacekeeping force) EUFOR, and the proclamation of independence by (Serbia's breakaway province of) Kosovo, we don't have a government or a prime minister who can react,'' Barbalic said.
Even if parties agree on a PM-designate, Bosnian Serb MPs have already said they would boycott the parliament as a protest against Lajcak's measure. ''So how can the presidency expect a new cabinet to be voted in?'' he added.
Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said his party would take part in choosing the new premier only if Lajcak ''withdraws or amends'' the controversial measure to assuage Serb fears that they could be outvoted by the other ethnic groups.
''If that is removed, we will join consultations. Otherwise, we will be in the opposition,'' he told SRNA news agency.
The EU has backed Lajcak's reforms and wants proof the three ethnic groups are getting over the legacy of the war and are able to work together in a functioning state.
But analysts say Bosnia's Serbs are increasingly influenced and encouraged in their defiance by Serbia, which is stoking instability in the Balkans to scare the West away from granting independence to Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
Reuters PJ DB2313