Serbia suspends plans for lithium mine after environmental protests

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By AP  with Euronews
Environmental protesters  have been rallying on some of Belgrade's major roads.
Environmental protesters have been rallying on some of Belgrade's major roads.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File

Local authorities in western Serbia have suspended plans to operate a lithium mine after widespread environmental protests.

Mining giant Rio Tinto had been expected to start work in the near future, but a town council in Loznica voted to suspend a regional development plan that permitted the excavation of lithium.

The vote on Thursday came days after Serbia's parliament suspended two key laws that ecologists said would allow the mining company to start the project.

For three consecutive weekends, thousands of protesters in Belgrade blocked main roads and bridges to oppose Rio Tinto's plans.

The rallies were seen as the biggest challenge yet to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

“Whether there will be a mine depends on people [in western Serbia] and the study on environmental impact assessment,” said Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić

Although Rio Tinto said it would adhere to all the latest environmental protection standards, protesters said the lithium excavation could inflict lasting ecological damage to rivers and farmland in the region.

Now that the lithium mine plans are on hold, Vučić has said that Serbia will "have to speak in a different way to Rio Tinto and others".

Throughout its almost 150-year history, the multinational company has faced accusations of corruption, environmental degradation, and human rights abuses at its excavation sites.

Lithium, which is used in batteries for electric cars, is considered one of the most sought-after metals of the future as the world shifts to more renewable energy sources.

As Serbia faces an electricity shortage, Vučić has ignored European Union pleas for countries to reduce CO2 emissions and has even pledged to expand coal mining for power plants -- much to the frustration of environmentalists.