ZAGREB (Reuters) - Around 20,000 Croats, mostly war veterans, rallied on Sunday on the central square in the capital Zagreb to protest against a plan to introduce signs in the Cyrillic alphabet used by Serbs.
The Croatian and Serbian languages are mutually intelligible, but Croats use the Latin script while Serbs, like Russians, Ukrainians and Bulgarians, use Cyrillic script.
Some Croats see the Serbian script as a reminder of the suffering of the country during fighting against the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian militias during the 1991-95 war of independence.
The Social Democrat-led government, which will take the country into the European Union on July 1, says it wants to respect the minority law and put up bilingual signs in areas where the population is more than one third ethnic Serb.
The protesters waved Croatian flags, banners and insignia of military units. They said they particularly want to prevent Cyrillic signs from appearing in Vukovar, a city destroyed during a three-month siege by Yugoslav and Serb forces in 1991.
"We're not barbarians, we love our country more than anything else. We're against a forceful introduction of Cyrillic in our beautiful Vukovar," Tomislav Josic, one of the organizers, told the gathering.
Vukovar, though rebuilt, remains poor, with high unemployment and lingering ethnic tensions.
The authorities have not said when the Cyrillic signs will appear. Croatia already has bilingual signs, in Croatian and Italian, in the northern Adriatic Istrian peninsula close to Italy. According to the 2011 census, there are about a dozen municipalities in Croatia with a sizeable Serb community.
Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Peter Graff