Protesters in Serbia block roads for third consecutive weekend over lithium project

BELGRADE – Environmental activists have taken to the streets in Serbia for the third weekend in a row to protest against the plan to develop a large lithium mine despite obtaining some government concessions.

Protesters blocked traffic in several cities on December 11 to demand that global mining giant Rio Tinto stop work at the mine in western Serbia.

“The one and only demand is to oust Rio Tinto from Serbia and to pass a law banning the exploitation of lithium,” said Aleksandar Jovanovic, the organizer of the demonstration and leader of the ecological uprising movement, in the service of the Balkans of RFE / RL.

Fewer people took to the streets this weekend after the government bowed to some of the activists’ demands.

On December 8, the government announced that it withdraw from parliament a land expropriation bill essential for mine development, saying it would review it for possible changes with input from civic professionals and civil society.

Two days later, the parliament adopted a law on referendums which included recommendations proposed by activists.

The development of the mine would be a boon to the economy of Serbia. Lithium is used in the production of batteries and its demand is expected to increase over the next two decades as automakers shift to the production of electric vehicles.

The production of lithium and batteries could generate billions of dollars in revenue for Serbia and create hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Rio Tinto has said it will strictly follow Serbian ecological laws.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who supports the projects, called the protests “political”. Vucic, an authoritarian leader, is running for re-election in April.

Protesters in the capital Belgrade blocked a highway for an hour on December 11. There was no visible police presence and no incidents were reported.

Demonstrations also took place in Nis, Subotica, Kragujevac and Uzice.

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly urgent in the Balkans, where lax regulations and corruption have led to high levels of air and water pollution, endangering the health of citizens.

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