Belgrade, Nov 27 (EFE).- Hundreds of environmentalists blocked roads in a number of Serbian cities Saturday to protest new laws they see as intended to advance the ambitions of miner Rio Tinto to exploit a massive deposit of lithium in the western part of this Balkan nation.
One of the measures streamlines the process of expropriating land for projects deemed to be in the public interest.
Despite denials from Serbia’s center-right government, critics contend the legislation was crafted to smooth the path for Rio Tinto’s planned $2.4 billion lithium mine in the Jadar valley, which environmentalists and some residents fear will contaminate soil and water in the area.
The Anglo-Australian giant estimates that the mine will produce enough lithium to supply more than 1 million batteries a year for electric vehicles.
Police were out in force Saturday in Belgrade as protesters paralyzed traffic on several main arteries, but N1 television reported that the demonstrations transpired without incident.
In Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city, protesters tried without success to break through a police cordon.
Protesters urged the government not to “deliver Serbia” to foreign investors and some denounced the actions of President Aleksandar Vucic as “treason.”
Officials insist the law on expropriation has no bearing on the lithium project, pointing out that Rio Tinto must submit an environmental impact study and that the final decision on the mine will be made by citizens of the region in a referendum.
However, another of the new laws that spurred Saturday’s mobilization removes the requirement that 50 percent plus one of registered voters cast votes for a referendum to be valid. EFE Sn/dr