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Serbia: Protesters block roads over new mining laws

November 27, 2021

Scuffles broke out between protesters and police in Belgrade and Novi Sad while organizers said several activists had been detained. Activists argue new laws are damaging to the environment.

Serbia | Protests in Belgrade
Citizens are protesting against new laws they say favor the interests of foreign investors devastating the environmentImage: Milos Miskov/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hundreds of protesters blocked major roads and bridges in Serbia on Saturday as they rallied against new laws that green activists argue will give free rein to foreign mining companies, causing irreparable damage to the environment.

The Balkan country's government has offered mineral resources to firms such as China's Zijin copper miner and the Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto, sparking outrage among environmentalists who say the projects would pollute land and water.

Skirmishes erupted between police and anti-government protesters who chanted slogans against conservative President Aleksandar Vucic. Demonstrators brought traffic to a standstill in downtown Belgrade and blocked a stretch of a main highway through the capital. Vucic has called China a "savior" for its copper mine projects.  The people around the Bor copper mine, however, fear for their future, as Bor is part of the strategic investments around China's New Silk Road to Europe. 

Serbia | Protests in Belgrada
Protesters managed to block a major highway in BelgradeImage: Milos Miskov/AP Photo/picture alliance

Protesters detained

In Novi Sad, dozens of protesters briefly scuffled with police.

Protest organizers said several activists had been detained in both the northern Serbian city and in Belgrade.

A recent reform will effectively stop popular initiatives against polluting projects by establishing hefty administrative fees, green activists argue.

The activists also oppose a new expropriation law, which allows the acquisition of private land by the state within eight days.

Serbia is one of Europe's most polluted countries and will need billions of euros to meet the European Union's environmental standards. It is proving a major stumbling block to any ambitions the Balkan country has of joining the EU.

Just the beginning, say activists

Rio Tinto has said it would adhere to all domestic and EU environmental standards at its lithium mine in Serbia. Populist Vucic's government said it would arrange a referendum to test support among Serbians for Rio Tinto's project.

Activists have threatened further action if the laws on property expropriation and referendum aren't withdrawn.

Environmentalists and civil society groups have expressed dismay that authorities have lowered the referendum threshold.

jsi/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)