A government-backed proposal to enable mining corporation Rio Tinto to extract lithium sparked mass protests in Serbia on Saturday.
With anti-government shouts and posters criticizing the mining project, demonstrators surrounded a key highway and bridge in Belgrade that connects the city to the outskirts. According to reports from local media, several smaller demonstrations were conducted in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and the northern city of Novi Sad.
Anti-government rallies in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, have sparked indignation on social media and suspicions that the government is using hooligans to crush the movement.
The Anglo-Australian firm is purchasing land in Loznica, Western Australia, but is still waiting for the state to approve mining lithium, a vital component in electric car batteries. Rio Tinto discovered lithium in Loznica in 2006. According to Vesna Prodanovic, CEO of Rio Tinto’s Serbian subsidiary Rio Sava, the project will cost $2.4 billion (€2.12 billion).
Allegations have been leveled at President Aleksandar Vuican that it is encouraging illicit land acquisitions while neglecting environmental issues. Anti-Vui protesters have accused the organizers of stoking controversy to damage the incumbent ahead of the 2022 national elections.
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Roadblocks have been erected around Serbia, including Novi Sad, Sabac, Uzice, and Nis in the South and Zajecar in the East. Environmentalists claim Rio’s proposed $2.4 billion lithium mine would permanently damage the area’s drinking water, despite its assurances that it will conform to all applicable national and EU environmental requirements.
As a result of referendum legislation approved last month and a new expropriation law, which makes it easier for the state to confiscate private property, the demonstrators are enraged.
Vladimir Putin’s Instagram account included a photo of Gornje Nedeljice, where Rio Tinto has already begun purchasing property for its planned lithium mine.”‘
Vucic said he would organize a vote on the project after the environmental research was complete so that citizens could determine whether or not it should go forward. Although Rio Tinto hasn’t released an environmental impact report for the Serbian government or the Serbian public to review, it intends to begin construction of the mine next year and be operational by 2026.
A total of roughly 50 houses in Gornje Nedeljice and two other villages, Slatina and Brezjak, will be relocated due to the Jadar mining project.
To accommodate the vast, 250-hectare underground mining complex, 330 more parcels of land must be bought from their owners. There was a wave of anti-foreign-backed industrial projects rallies in Belgrade last month. Belgrade and other towns saw large demonstrations and targeted traffic blockades as Serbs protested the passing of two government-sponsored measures, one setting new regulations for expropriating private property and the other removing the turnout requirement for national referendums.
There has also been widespread resistance to many Chinese-backed projects, including a gold and silver mine that opened in Bor, a steel plant that spews red dust over Radinac, and an alleged “slave” Vietnamese labor factory in Zrenjanin.