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Serbian environmental protesters reject lithium mining plans

BELGRADE, SERBIA (AP) — Environmental protesters demanding the cancelation of plans for lithium mining in western Serbia took to the streets again yesterday, blocking key roads and for the first time a border crossing.

Traffic on the Balkan nation’s main north-south highway was halted for more than an hour in Belgrade, the capital, along with several other roads throughout the country, including one by Serbia’s border with Bosnia.

Minor incidents have been reported with angry drivers trying to push their way through the crowds. Witnesses told N1 television that a man was injured in one incident in the western town of Sabac.

Environmental groups want Serbia’s populist government to halt the possibility of lithium mining in western Serbia. Activists have pledged to press on with blockades until their demand is met and the Rio Tinto mining company is “expelled” from Serbia.

Thousands joined similar demonstrations several weeks ago, forcing the government to withdraw two laws that activists said were designed to speed up the country’s mining plans.

A protestor blocks a highway in Belgrade, Serbia. PHOTO: AP

“This is an ecological catastrophe, that I think Serbia is already one foot in, and even a worse one (catastrophe) is threatening,” said Belgrade resident Mirjana Podolsek.

Another protester, Janko Krizan, believes that “it is our duty to come here.”

“Rio Tinto will not only pollute Serbia, but it will pollute everything else, entire system, everything,” he said.

Rio Tinto has performed explorations in western Serbia but environmental groups want the project abolished, saying that lithium mining would devastate nearby farmland, waters and the area’s entire ecosystem.

Environmental issues have become a public concern in Serbia because the nation of seven million people is facing bad air pollution, poor waste management and many other environmental problems that have accumulated after decades of neglect. Serbia must tackle those environmental issues to advance in its bid to join the 27-nation European Union.

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