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Banja Luka, with some 239,000 residents, is the second largest city in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the largest city in the Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb "entity" that comprises 49% of Bosnia-Hercegovina. This city, located in northern Bosnia on the Vrbas River, is the dominant city and the capital of the RS. The Presidential Palace in Banja Luka has been the RS seat of government since 1998.

During the war, the city was flooded with Serbian refugees, swelling its population from the prewar 195,000. Once quite ethnically mixed, like most of prewar Bosnia-Hercegovina, Banja Luka is now mostly Serbian. The city's 16 mosques were destroyed in 1993 by local Serb nationalists. The city, like much of the RS, is more closely tied to Serbia than to the Muslim-Croat Federation which comprises the other half of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Telephone connections to Sarajevo are difficult. Intercity buses run 23 times daily to Belgrade, compared to a mere 5 per day to Sarajevo. Banking is also closely tied to Serbia; the Serbian Dinar is used as currency concurrently with the Bosnia-Hercegovina Convertible Mark, as well as the Euro. Many streets in the city have been renamed since the end of the war.

Despite its tortured past, the city seems to retain quite a bit of beauty. Pictures of Banja Luka can be found at http://www.inperth.com.au/cgi-bin/Galerija/pics.pl.

Thanks to the Lonely Planet guidebook for Eastern Europe, 6th edition, for much of the information contained here.

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