Hundreds block roads in Serbia against lithium mining plans

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Hundreds of people on Monday blocked roads in several locations in Serbia demanding that the authorities scrap any plans for lithium mining, which ecologists say would devastate the environment.

Several minor incidents were reported as angry drivers sought to push through the crowds that halted traffic in the northern city of Novi Sad and several more locations throughout the country.

The blockade was not formally organized in the capital, Belgrade, where a few dozen right-wing protesters tried to block the motorway but dispersed shortly after. The demonstration comes amid a holiday week in Serbia when many people are away.

Populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has described the protest as political. He said on Monday that there will be no lithium mining until more studies are done.

Protest organizers have dismissed the arguments by the authorities, saying that the current project by the Rio Tinto company must be formally abolished or more protests will follow. The company has carried out explorations.

“Rio Tinto must leave Serbia,” said Aleksandar Jovanovic, one of the protest leaders. “They (the government) could only implement this project with police and the army. There’s nothing to talk about any more, this agony has to stop.”

Thousands in the past weeks have protested against a mine in lithium-rich western Serbia amid fears that it would inflict irreparable damage to the farming land, nature and waters. Ecological issues recently have gained public attention in Serbia after decades of neglect and various problems with waste management and air and water pollution.

Serbia also must tackle environmental problems if it wants to pursue its proclaimed goal of joining the European Union in the future.

“I’ve had enough with what’s going on,” said Djordje Gavrilovic, a protester from the northern city of Novi Sad. “This is not normal. They are destroying our beautiful country Serbia.”

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