Protesters block roads in Serbia to criticize mining projects
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Thousands of protesters in Belgrade and other Serbian towns blocked main roads and bridges on Saturday to denounce a lithium mine project despite police warnings and a campaign of intimidation launched by the authorities against the demonstrators.
Whistling and chanting “Insurrection!” Uprising! “Protesters halted traffic on the main road through the Serbian capital. In the second largest city in the Balkans, Nis, the main street in the city center was blocked, as was a bridge over the Danube in the city of Novi Sad, in the north of the country.
In Novi Sad, football hooligans threw stones and bottles at protesters, who responded by chasing them. A hooligan was severely beaten. In Belgrade, masked men fired flares at demonstrators.
Uniformed police were not visible during the two-hour protests, which were the most massive protests against the populist government in Serbia in many years.
It was the second such national protest to be launched by environmental groups amid growing public discontent with the autocratic regime of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Protesters clashed with police on Saturday and in one town unidentified masked men attacked them with sticks and hammers.
Environmental groups have criticized Vucic’s populist government for failing to sufficiently tackle widespread pollution in the Balkan nation. They are notably against two laws passed by parliament which they consider to lay the foundations for a lithium mining operation by Rio Tinto in western Serbia.
In a show of defiance, Vucic ignored the protests on Saturday and went to the site where the international mining company plans to start excavations. His office said he wanted to talk to residents about the project.
“Our aim is to have a civilized conversation and not be pressured by the streets,” Vucic told pro-government television Pink, adding that the police would not intervene against the protesters on Saturday.
Vucic and other Serbian officials denounced the protests and claimed they were funded by the West to destabilize the country and bring the opposition to power.
“The blockade of bridges, highways, roads and the paralysis of life in Belgrade and other towns in Serbia is not a way to express an opinion, but a flagrant violation of the rights of most citizens “Said Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, alleging that the opposition parties” want to return to power at all costs “.
Many protesters complained that police officers visited their homes and warned them that they could face legal consequences and fines if they participate in the environmental rallies. Activist Danijela Vujovic from the southern city of Nis said police came to her home in the morning to warn her that the protests constituted a “criminal act”.
“I don’t see how this is a criminal act,” Vujosevic told regional N1 television. Vujosevic’s daughter could be seen holding a small banner that read “I am of public interest!” “
Police reiterated their warning on Saturday that the protests are illegal and that organizers will have to bear all possible consequences. They also issued a special phone number and e-mail address for anyone wishing to report “violence caused by the blockade”.
AP writer Jovana Gec contributed.
Follow all the stories on the issues of pollution and climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate.
Dusan Stojanovic, The Associated Press