Protesters against a planned lithium mine in western Serbia are divided over whether to call off protests or continue action, after authorities promised to withdraw or amend laws that critics say were aimed at paving the way for the project.

Serbia Eco Protests to Continue Despite Backdown Over Disputed Laws

Protesters carry a flag reading: ‘Stop investors, let’s save nature’ during a blockade of the Belgrade-Zagreb highway on December 4 2021. Photo: BIRN

Some of the organizers of recent environmental protests in Serbia have called for more protests and road blockades on Saturday, even though the government, pressured by protesters, has offered to withdraw the contested Expropriation Law and amend the Referendum Law – seen as easing the passage for an unpopular lithium mine.

Some protesters said they want stronger guarantees that Rio Tinto’s lithium mine will not be granted permission before they call off rallies.

Aleksandar Jovanovic “Cuta”, a leader of the Ecological Uprising movement, one of the organizers of previous two blockades, called on citizens to gather at 1pm Saturday at the Sava Center in Belgrade, so that the blockade of the E75 highway in Belgrade could be organized again from 2-3pm. Similar road blockades will be organized in parallel in a total of 40 cities and towns.

Jovanovic said the goal was to ensure the deletion of Rio Tinto’s planned project from the spatial plan of Loznica, western Serbia, which is where the mine should be built.

“After tomorrow’s blockade … the focus is the session of the Loznica assembly, which refuses to discuss the deletion of the Jadar project from the spatial plan; we will keep you informed about further ways of fighting,” Jovanovic said.

He has also called for police to be present on Saturday in order to prevent any violent incidents, while uring the police to arrest anyone attacking protesters.

Loznica’s local assembly is due to hold a session on the issue by December 15.

However, the Kreni Promeni (Go and Change) organization, led by lawyer Savo Manojlovic, said that after the government agreed to withdraw the Law on Expropriation and amend the Referendum Law, there are no reasons to continue protesting at this point.

“We have publicly promised that the blockades will stop if they [the government] accept our demands. We cannot break a given word,” said Manojlovic, who was the one first to call on citizens to block main roads.

Manojlovic, however, said he could not celebrate victory while “comrades-in-arms” and other organizations that supported the protests continued with new demands.

“We support every kind of fight for change. [But] we cannot celebrate while the people who fought with us side by side continue to fight,” Manojlovic said, trying to calm the atmosphere.

The government on Wednesday backed down to demands voiced by thousands of people who had blocked roads and highways for two weekends in a row.

The Referendum Law was adopted on November 25, and the amendments to the Law on Expropriation the next day.

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

The Anglo-Australian mining giant still has not got the final permits to exploit a lithium mine, but evidence indicates that both Serbia’s government, and countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Germany, heavily back the project.

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

During the first blockades on November 27, dozens of protesters were arrested, while videos showed unprovoked police violence against some protesters.

In the town of Sabac, masked hooligans linked to the ruling Progressive Party attacked protesters with sticks, hammers and even a bulldozer. The opposition called the violence a coordinated action and another defeat for the rule of law in the country.

However, at the blockades staged on December 4, police were not present at all, despite several violent incidents, prompting claims that they had suspended their duties in the interests of the ruling party.

Source link: