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Thousands of roads across Serbia in anti-government protests

Anti-government protesters wear masks during a demonstration in Belgrade
Anti-government protesters wear masks during a demonstration in Belgrade, Serbia, December 4, 2021. REUTERS / Goran Tomasevic

December 5, 2021

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of people blocked roads across Serbia in an anti-government protest against two new laws that environmentalists say will allow foreign companies to exploit local resources .

The Serbian government has provided mineral resources to companies including Chinese copper miner Zijin and Rio Tinto. Green activists argue that these projects will pollute the land and water in the Balkan country.

Protests are plaguing the People’s Progressive Party led by President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of next year’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Thousands of people gathered on the main bridge in the capital Belgrade and chanted “Rio Tinto disappear from the river Drina.”

They held up placards that read: “Stop investors, save nature”, “We don’t give away nature in Serbia” and “For land, water and air”.

Barriers have been set up across Serbia including the second largest city of Novi Sad, in Western Serbia in Sabac, Uzice and Nis in the south, and in Zajecar in the east.

“The reason (for the protest) was to protect our land, water and air. We don’t want it to be sold cheaply,” said Stefan, a student protesting in Belgrade.

Rio has promised to comply with all EU and domestic environmental standards, but environmentalists say its planned $2.4 billion lithium mine will irreparably pollute drinking water in the future. area.

Protesters are angry over a referendum law passed last month that would make it harder for residents to oppose polluting projects, as well as a new expropriation law that would make it easier for the state to acquire private land. .

President Aleksandar Vucic on his Instagram profile posted a photo from the village of Gornje Nedeljice, where Rio Tinto has started buying land for his future lithium project.

Vucic said that once the environmental study of the project is complete, he will convene a referendum to allow people to decide whether to approve the project.

Vucic wrote on Instagram: “Everything we build today we are leaving behind for our children. (This story adjusts the number in paragraph 8 to $2.4 billion instead of 2.4 million)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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DUSTIN JONES

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