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Green groups block roads in Serbia to protest Rio Tinto .’s mining project

Protest against Rio Tinto's plan to open a lithium mine in Belgrade
Environmental activists block the E-75 highway to protest Rio Tinto’s plans to open a lithium mine, in Belgrade, Serbia, December 11, 2021. REUTERS / Marko Djurica

December 11, 2021

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Hundreds of people in Serbia braved snow and cold weather to block roads across the country for the third consecutive weekend on Saturday to protest against a government plan to allow Rio Tinto opens a lithium mine.

To promote economic growth, the Serbian government has made mineral resources available to foreign investors including Chinese copper miner Zijin and Rio Tinto.

Green activists say the mining projects will pollute the land and water in the Balkan country, which has been hit hard by industrial pollution.

The protests have become a headache for the governing coalition ahead of the April 3 general election.

After the first weeks of protests, conservative President Aleksandar Vucic sent the property expropriation law, disputed by green groups, allowing the state to quickly buy back property, back into parliament to do it again.

On Friday, parliament also introduced amendments to the referendum law, including removing the requirement to pay fees by citizen groups to launch referendum initiatives.

Critics said two laws were passed to ease mine construction.

But that still doesn’t go far enough, said Aleksandar Jovanovic Cuta, head of the civic organization Ecological Uprising.

“There will be no respite until Rio Tinto is expelled from Serbia and until lithium mining… is banned forever,” he told reporters.

Protesters brought traffic to a standstill along a highway in the Novi Beograd neighborhood and scuffled with a driver who tried to plow his way.

Irena Radovanovic, a student from Belgrade, said: “We (have to) protect ourselves from the crazy projects that are envisioning building dozens of mines in Serbia.

Lithium is in great demand globally as a key component in batteries for electric cars, while another mining product is expected, borate, used in solar panels and wind turbines.

Rio has promised to comply with all EU and domestic environmental standards, but environmentalists say the projected $2.4 billion mining in Serbia will cause irreparable pollution. restore drinking water in the area.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ros Russell)

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DUSTIN JONES

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