Serbia abandons planned Rio Tinto lithium mine after protests | Radio WGN 720

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Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic speaks during a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Trying to defuse protests from environmentalists, Serbia’s populist government said on Thursday it was rescinding all rights that would help mining giant Rio Tinto launch a lithium mine power plant in the Balkan country. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Trying to defuse large protests by environmentalists, Serbia’s populist government said Thursday it was canceling all licenses from mining giant Rio Tinto to open a lithium mine in the Balkan country.

“We have responded to all demands of the environmental protests and put an end to Rio Tinto in the Republic of Serbia,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said in a televised address. “It’s all over. It’s finish.”

Used in electric car batteries, lithium is seen as one of the most sought-after metals of the future as the world shifts to more renewable energy sources.

For several weekends, thousands of demonstrators in Belgrade and other Serbian towns blocked major roads and bridges to protest the mine project in western Serbia, despite a campaign of intimidation by authorities . Opponents say the project would cause serious environmental damage.

The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to the increasingly autocratic regime of President Aleksandar Vucic, who has denounced the roadblocks as illegal and claimed they were funded from abroad to destabilize the country.

Brnabic said all licenses granted to Rio Tinto, which has been exploring mining opportunities in the country for about two decades, were provided by the previous pro-Western government.

But Serbian independent media say the main contracts with Rio Tinto were signed with the current right-wing management. Critics have argued that by sidelining Rio Tinto, the government is doing damage control ahead of the general election in April.

Earlier Thursday, Rio Tinto, in a statement, expressed “concern” over reports that the project would be abandoned.

The company said any decision should be accompanied by “fact-based discussion and dialogue”. He added that he is dedicated to developing the project in accordance with Serbian and international regulations.

“We are not afraid of Rio Tinto,” Brnabic said. “We are here for our people and our country. They can do whatever they think they should do. This is the final decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. “

It is widely believed that Serbia, which is officially seeking membership of the European Union but which has instead forged close ties with Russia and China, may want to hand over lithium mining to China by removing Rio Tinto from project in which it has committed to invest 2.4 dollars. billion.

Throughout its nearly 150-year history, Rio Tinto has faced accusations of corruption, environmental degradation and human rights abuses at its mine sites.

Environmentalists are also upset by the Serbian government’s lack of response to the growing pollution in the country.

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Jovana Gec contributed to this story.

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