Thousands protest in Serbian capital against lithium mine and environmental concerns
Thousands of Serbs took to the streets of Belgrade to protest against plans to develop a large lithium mine in the Balkan country and to demand tighter environmental controls.
Protesters gathered outside the parliament building on September 11 to demand an end to development of the lithium project as some waived signs stating that Serbia’s nature was “not for sale”.
Nenad Kostic, professor of chemistry, told the crowd there was no âgreenâ mining, a reference to the classification of lithium as a green energy source due to its use to power electric cars.
Protesters then blocked the Branko Bridge – one of the city’s main thoroughfares – for an hour.
The rally was organized by around 30 environmental groups, whose influence has grown in the face of widespread concerns about worsening pollution.
It was the biggest environmental protest in Belgrade since April. Organizers threatened to withhold more if authorities ignored their message.
London-based Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest metals and mining company, is studying the possible development of Serbia’s lithium mine, considered one of the largest in Europe.
The mine has the potential to generate significant export income and jobs for Serbia, especially if the country pursues plans to refine it locally and develop battery factories.
The demand for electric cars is expected to increase in the coming years as the United States, Europe and China seek to reduce their carbon emissions.
Rio Tinto has announced that it will invest up to $ 2.4 billion to develop the project.
However, protesters say Serbia’s rivers, natural environment and air quality are already threatened enough by for-profit government policies and fear fertile farmland in western regions may be damaged by the project. .
“Our demand is that the government of Serbia rescind all obligations to Rio Tinto,” said Aleksandar Jovanovic, one of the organizers. “We have come together to say no to those who offer concentrated sulfuric acid in place of raspberries and honey.”
Organizers warned that more protests were to come if the government ignored their demands.
More than 100,000 people have already signed a petition against the development of the lithium mine.
In a statement following the protests, Rio Tinto said it understands citizens’ concerns about the project’s environmental impact and will follow the country’s ecological laws.
Serbian Minister of Mines and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic accused some organizers of the protest of using the lithium project as an opportunity to build their political careers.
However, she said the government would hold a referendum on building mines and factories.
Serbia’s environmental movement has been spurred in part by what citizens say is worsening air pollution and a growing problem with waste management.
Much anger over the air pollution has been directed at the coal-fired power plants run by Chinese companies.
With report by AP