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Serbia suspends lithium mine plans after protests

Serbia suspends lithium mine plans after protests


Local authorities in western Serbia on Thursday suspended a plan that would allow mining giant Rio Tinto to operate a lithium mine, following protests by environmentalists that shook the country’s populist leadership.


The mining had been expected to start in the near future, but a town council in Loznica voted to suspend a regional development plan that permitted the excavation of lithium. The vote followed the suspension last week of two key laws in Serbia’s parliament that ecologists said would help the multinational mining company start the project.

For three consecutive weekends, thousands of protesters in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia blocked main roads and bridges to oppose Rio Tinto’s plan to launch a $2.4 billion mining operation in Serbia. The protests were the biggest challenge yet to the increasingly autocratic rule of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

“Whether there will be a mine depends on people (in western Serbia) and the study on environmental impact assessment,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said. “These are the two conditions that the president (Vucic) stated earlier.”

Rio Tinto said in a statement Thursday that it worked in accordance with laws and the highest professional standards throughout its 10-year presence in Serbia in order to launch “the largest mining investment in this part of the world.”

“We understand the interest of citizens in everything that happens in connection with the project, and we will continue to provide information on all aspects of the project for which we are responsible and in which we participate,” the statement said, according to independent Beta news agency.

Although Rio Tinto said it would adhere to all the latest environmental protection standards, organizers of the weekend protests said the lithium excavation could inflict lasting ecological damage to rivers and farmland in the region.

Environmental protesters stand on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, on Dec. 11, 2021. Serbia has suspended a plan that would allow mining giant Rio Tinto launch a lithium mine in the west of the country after protests by environmentalists which have shaken the country’s populist leadership. A local council of the town of Loznica in western Serbia, where the excavations were to start in the near future, voted on Thursday to suspend a regional development plan. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)

Now that the lithium mine plans are on hold, Vucic said earlier this week that from now on “we will have to speak in a different way to Rio Tinto and others.”


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CHINESE-OWNED STEEL MILL COATS SERBIAN TOWN IN RED DUST; CANCER SPREADS


A few hundred meters from the huge furnaces of the Chinese-owned Smedrevo steel mill in central Serbia, the village of Radinac is covered in thick red dust. Cancer rates have quadrupled in under a decade, and residents want the plant to clean up or shut down.


Throughout its almost 150-year history, the company has faced accusations of corruption, environmental degradation and human rights abuses at its excavation sites.

Lithium, which is used in batteries for electric cars, is considered one of the most sought-after metals of the future as the world shifts to more renewable energy sources.

As Serbia faces an electricity shortage, Vucic has ignored European Union pleas for countries to reduce CO2 emissions and pledged to continue and even expand coal mining for power plants.

Environmentalists are upset at the Serbian government’s lack of response to rising pollution in the country.

Source:

Dusan Stojanovic via Associated Press



Rio Tinto lithium mine: thousands of protesters block roads across Serbia

Rio Tinto lithium mine: thousands of protesters block roads across Serbia


Crowds chanted slogans condemning government of Aleksandar Vučić, which backs planned Anglo-Australian $2.4bn mine


Thousands of demonstrators blocked major roads across Serbia on Saturday as anger swelled over a government-backed plan to allow mining company Rio Tinto to extract lithium.

In the capital, Belgrade, protesters swarmed a major highway and bridge linking the city to outlying suburbs as the crowd chanted anti-government slogans while some held signs criticising the mining project.

Smaller protests were held in other Serbian cities, with small scuffles between demonstrators and counter-protesters in Belgrade and the northern city of Novi Sad, according to local media reports.

“They allowed foreign companies to do whatever they want on our land. They put us on a platter for everyone who can just come and take whatever they want,” said Vladislava Cvoric, a 56-year-old economist, during the protest.

Protesters wave flares during a Belgrade demonstration against the government-backed proposal for a lithium mine.
Protesters wave flares during a Belgrade demonstration against the government-backed proposal for a lithium mine. Photograph: Zorana Jevtic/Reuters

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic shared a photograph of the protest on Instagram and commented that “clean air, water and food are keys to health”.

“Without that, every word about ‘health’ is obsolete,” Djokovic said.

The protests followed similar demonstrations last week, during which masked men attacked one gathering in western Serbia’s Sabac – sparking outrage on social media and accusations the government was using hooligans to suppress the movement.

Substantial deposits of lithium – a key component for electric car batteries – have been found around the western town of Loznica, where the Anglo-Australian company is buying up land but is still awaiting the final green light from the state to begin mining.

Rio Tinto discovered lithium reserves in the Loznica region in 2006.

The company intends to invest $2.4bn (€2.12bn) in the project, according to Vesna Prodanovic, director of Rio Sava, Rio Tinto’s sister company in Serbia.

Critics have accused president Aleksandar Vučić’s government of setting the stage for illegal land appropriations and ignoring environmental concerns.

The demonstrations come months ahead of likely national elections in 2022, with critics of the protests accusing organisers of stirring controversy to undermine Vučić before the polls.

Source:

Agence France-Presse via The Guardian



Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust; cancer spreads

Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust; cancer spreads


A few hundred meters from the huge furnaces of the Chinese-owned Smedrevo steel mill in central Serbia, the village of Radinac is covered in thick red dust. Cancer rates have quadrupled in under a decade, and residents want the plant to clean up or shut down.


Zoran, 70, a throat cancer patient who speaks with a voice prosthesis after his larynx was removed, said residents must dry their laundry indoors and use vinegar to clean the dust from their cars.

“Water cannot wash it off,” he said. “We do not go out. We do not dare.”

According to data from the Smederevo public health body, which a watchdog called Tvrdjava obtained through a freedom of information request and shared with Reuters, the municipality of around 100,000 people reported 6,866 cancer cases in 2019, up from 1,738 in 2011.

The plant says it has invested 300 million euros in technology and pollution reduction since China’s biggest steelmaker, Hesteel, bought it from the Serbian state for 46 million euros ($53 million) five years ago.

“We are all citizens of Smederevo…. Would we be working despite pollution, against ourselves and our children?” the plant’s manager for environmental protection, Ljubica Drake, said in a statement to Reuters.

Three new production facilities will significantly reduce pollution after their completion in 2022, she said. It was “not correct” to conclude that higher cancer rates were caused by the plant’s activities, she said, adding that the disease could be a result of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999 during a war in Kosovo.

Chinese-owned steel mill coats Serbian town in red dust

Image 1 of 4

Zivadnika Arsic, a 86-year-old woman, stands in front of her once white house, now covered with the red dust from the Chinese-owned HBIS Serbia steel mill in the village of Radinac, as cancer rates have quadrupled in under a decade, near the city of Smederevo, Serbia, November 3, 2021. Picture taken November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

But activists say the plant is an example of Chinese-owned industrial firms ignoring pollution standards.

Nikola Krstic, the head of Tvrdjava, an environmental group whose name means The Fort, said an analysis of the red dust in September showed high concentration of heavy metals.

“The air in the town is far below European standards for 120 days per year,” he told Reuters. “Red dust is greasy, it sticks to lungs, makes breathing difficult.”

China has invested billions of euros in Serbia, which is a candidate to join the EU but has an uneasy relationship with the West more than two decades after the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, and has pursued close ties with Beijing.

The authorities in Belgrade say they are prepared to challenge Chinese-owened companies over pollution.

In April, Serbia’s authorities ordered China’s Zijin Mining Group to temporarily halt some operations at the country’s only copper mine over failure to comply with environmental standards. The mine said it would rectify all the problems swiftly, and it was permitted to reopen.

“Not only must polluters be fined, … if they cannot reduce pollution … they must halt operations,” Zorana Mihajlovic, Serbia’s mining and energy minister, told Reuters last week.

Source:

Aleksandar Vasovic via Reuters