Protesters blocked roads in Serbia for a third consecutive weekend to oppose plans for lithium mining, despite a bid by the country’s populist government to defuse the demonstrations by agreeing to the key demands of organisers.
Several thousand people braved rain and cold weather on Saturday to halt traffic in the capital, Belgrade, and in other cities and towns in the Balkan nation.
The protesters want the government to fully remove any possibility of companies initiating mining projects. They argue that extracting lithium, a key component in electric car batteries, causes huge damage to mined areas.
Serbian authorities withdrew two key laws that activists said were designed to help multinational mining company Rio Tinto open a mine in the country’s lithium-rich west.
Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, described continued protests as “political” after the government gave up on the two proposed laws, which involved property expropriation and referendum rules.
Vucic said people would have a chance to express their preferences during the next election in April.
Serbia must tackle its environmental problems to advance towards European Union membership. Vucic has said he wants the country to join the EU, but he has also fostered close ties with Russia and China, including Chinese investments in mines, factories and infrastructure.
Environmental issues have come into focus recently in Serbia and other Balkan nations because of accumulated problems from air and water pollution. Protesters have argued that authorities favour the interests of foreign investors and profit over environmental protection.