Government surrenders to protesters against amendments to expropriation and referendum laws – which many felt were being pushed through to ease construction of a hotly disputed lithium mine.

Serbia Govt Bows to Protesters Blocking Roads Over Disputed Laws

Beginning of blockade of the E-75 highway in Belgrade, Serbia, December 4 2021. Photo: EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC

Serbia’s government will withdraw amendments it proposed to the Law on Expropriation and make key changes to the Law on Referendums and People’s Initiative, it said on Wednesday.

The government backed down to demands voiced by thousands of people who had blocked roads and highways for two weekends in a row. The referendum and people’s initiative law was adopted on November 25, and the amendments to the Law on Expropriation the next day.

The government “made a decision to withdraw the Law on Expropriation from parliamentary procedure and return it … for re-decision by the President of the Republic, Aleksandar Vucic”, the government press release said.

It will now “analyze whether amendments to the Law on Expropriation are necessary and, if it is determined that the Law needs to be changed, will do so with a broad public debate that will include the professional public, professional associations, business representatives and civil society”, it added.

The government also offered to propose to parliament amendments to four articles of the Law on Referendums and People’s Initiatives.

“The mentioned articles refer to the certification of signatures, and representatives of the authorized proposer in the referendum body calling a referendum,” the press release said.

“The government’s proposal abolishes the fee for the verification of signatures and enables the representatives of authorized nominators to be part of the body conducting the referendum. Also, according to the proposal, it will not be possible to call a referendum on the same issue in less than four years, and the Assembly of Serbia will not be able to make a decision different from the one confirmed in the referendum within four years,” it added.

Both law changes were imposed without real public discussion and triggered angry mass protests, especially amid concerns that they were pushed through mainly to ease the path for Europe’s biggest lithium mine in the west of the country.

The protests, fuelled by concern over potential pollution from the mine and environmental neglect, threatened to became a significant challenge to the authority of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and its leader, President Vucic.

After two weekends of blockades that lasted a few hours each, the organisers had threatened to block roads and highways for three hours on December 11.

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