Environmental groups are angry at the recent referendum reform and oppose a new expropriation law, which allows private land grabs.
Skirmishes erupted in Serbia between police and demonstrators who blocked roads and bridges to protest against new laws they say are in the interest of foreign investors who harm the environment.
The government has offered the mineral resources to companies including copper miner Zijin and Rio Tinto, but activists say the projects will pollute land and water.
On Saturday, hundreds of people appeared simultaneously in the capital Belgrade, the northern city of Novi Sad and other locations to block bridges and main roads for an hour in what organizers described as a warning blockade. They pledged more protests if the property forfeiture laws and referendum were not withdrawn.
Environmental groups and civil society organizations are angered by the recent referendum reform, which they say will effectively halt grassroots initiatives against polluting projects by charging exorbitant administrative fees. They also oppose the new expropriation law, which allows for the mandatory acquisition of private land by the state within eight days.
Activists argue that these steps will pave the way for foreign companies to circumvent popular discontent over projects such as Rio Tinto’s bid to launch a lithium mine in western Serbia.
I am angry because we are an occupied country… I don’t know why [other] “People are silent,” said Maria Popovic, 35, a protester in Belgrade.
Serbian authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the new laws are necessary because of the infrastructure projects. President Aleksandar Vucic said that a referendum would be held on the Rio Tinto mine.
Experts warned that the planned lithium mine would destroy farmland and pollute the water.
Rio Tinto said it would comply with all local and European Union environmental standards at the site. It plans to invest $2.4 billion in the project, according to Vesna Brodanovic, director of Rio Sava, Rio Tinto’s sister company in Serbia.
After decades of neglect, Serbia faced major environmental problems such as air and water pollution, poor waste management and other issues.
Serbia is a candidate country to join the European Union, but so far not much has been achieved in terms of improving the country’s environmental situation.