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Hundreds of protesters in Serbia call for an end to lithium mine plan

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By Stefan Goranovic  with AP
Environmental protesters stand on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on Dec. 11, 2021.
Environmental protesters stand on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on Dec. 11, 2021.   -   Copyright  Darko Vojinovic / AP

Hundreds of people in Serbia's second-largest city blocked roads on Monday in protest against possible lithium mining by the Rio Tinto corporation.

Demonstrators filled the main intersection in Novi Sad, demanding President Aleksandar Vucic oust the company from Serbia and prevent further mining in the west of the country.

The environmental rallies are the latest in a series of protests that began last November.

"I've had enough with what's going on. This is not normal, they are destroying our beautiful country Serbia," environmental activist Djordje Gavrilovic told Euronews.

"It's torture against normal people. Tycoons are just getting richer and richer, the government in line with criminals. When do we, normal people, get some attention? We are just normal average people."

In an attempt to appease environmentalists, Serbia's populist government suspended in December two key laws that would have helped Rio Tinto obtain permission to launch a lithium mine in western Serbia.

Vucic has denied that the suspension of the laws is a result of caving into pressure from the protesters.

Protesters are threatening more action unless the Rio Tinto application is thrown out.

Several minor incidents were reported as angry drivers sought to push through the crowds, but the rally was largely peaceful.

Environmental issues have gained public attention in the Balkan nation as a result of various problems with waste management air and water pollution.

In western Serbia, many people are scared that if the lithium mine opens, they will be forced to leave their homes.

The protests are the biggest challenge yet to the increasingly autocratic rule of Vucic, who has denounced the road blockades as illegal and claimed they are being financed from abroad to destabilise the Balkan country.