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28 Nov 2021

bne IntelliNews

Serbia: Protests against mining projects, pollution & legislation allegedly favourable to foreign investors

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Weekend of protests against mining projects and pollution in Serbia, 28 November 2021

It has been a weekend of protests in Serbia over environmental issues that have whipped up environmental activists and ordinary citizens to get out onto the streets across the country. 

Protesters turned out in Belgrade, Novi Sad and other towns...in protest against legislation they say favours foreign investors — specifically Rio Tinto, which is trying to develop the giant Jadar lithium project in the country. There were several clashes between police and protesters, who blocked roads and bridges...

Saturday’s protests concerned two steps by the authorities. The first is changes to the rules on referendums that environmental and civil society groups say will in practice block initiatives to prevent polluting projects by introducing high administrative fees. Secondly, protesters oppose Serbia’s new expropriation law that enables speedy mandatory acquisitions of private land by the state.

Protesters claim the two pieces of legislation were adopted specifically to enable Rio Tinto’s planned lithium project at Jadar to go ahead. The project has sparked strong opposition from environmental groups and local residents, who fear it will pollute farmland and water in the area. The authorities have said a referendum will take place on the project but no date has yet been set. 

For its part, Rio Tinto says the project will be in line with the highest environmental standards. The metal is in growing demand as it is used in electric vehicles and other applications, and the company says the Jadar project will enable it to become Europe’s biggest supplier of lithium for at least 15 years. 

Hundreds of people joined the protest action...when activists blocked roads and bridges for one hour. Several clashes with police were reported. The most serious incident was in Sabac, western Serbia, where activists videoed an excavator they said was driven by supporters of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) trying to drive through a group of protesters. One of the protesters, who climbed into the vehicle and managed to switch off the engine, was arrested. 

In Novi Sad, a large crowd of people blocked Duga Bridge, and scuffled with police who tried to move then aside to allow traffic to pass. Several arrests were made...