Thousands of people block roads across Serbia in protest against the government

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BELGRADE, December 4 (Reuters) – Thousands of people blocked roads across Serbia during an anti-government protest against two new laws that environmentalists say will allow foreign companies to exploit local resources.

The Serbian government has offered mineral resources to companies such as Chinese copper miner Zijin (601899.SS) and Rio Tinto (RIO.L). Environmental activists say the projects will pollute land and water in the Balkan nation.

The protest is a headache for the ruling People’s Progressive Party led by President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of the legislative and presidential elections next year.

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Thousands of people gathered on the main bridge in the capital Belgrade chanting “Rio Tinto, get away from the Drina river”.

They were holding banners that read: “Stop Investors, Save Nature”, “We Do Not Give Nature to Serbia” and “For Land, Water and Air”.

Roadblocks have been erected all over Serbia, including the second largest city from Novi Sad in western Serbia to Sabac, Uzice and Nis in the south, to Zajecar in the east.

“The reason (of the protest) is to protect our land, our water and our air. We don’t want it to be sold at a low price,” said Stefan, a student demonstrating in Belgrade.

Rio has pledged to meet all national and European environmental standards, but environmentalists say its planned $ 2.4 billion lithium mine will irreversibly pollute drinking water in the region.

Protesters are angry at a referendum law passed last month that will make it harder for people to protest against polluting projects, as well as a new expropriation law, which makes it easier for the state to acquire private land .

President Aleksandar Vucic posted on his Instagram profile a photo of the village of Gornje Nedeljice where Rio Tinto has already started buying land for its future lithium project.

Vucic said that once the environmental study on the project is completed, he will call a referendum to allow people to decide whether the project should go through.

“Everything we build today we leave to our children,” Vucic wrote on Instagram.

(This story corrects the figure in paragraph 8 to $ 2.4 billion instead of $ 2.4 million)

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Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Christina Fincher

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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