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Serbia: Lithium mine opponents block roads in bad weather

Hundreds of people in Serbia spent part of a holiday weekend blocking roads Saturday to protest plans for lithium mining in the Balkan country.

The protests came a day after Orthodox Christians in Serbia and many other countries celebrated Christmas. The demonstrations took place in the capital, Belgrade, and several other locations.

Anti-mine activists have organized weekly gatherings to keep pressure on the populist government of President Aleksandar Vucic to scrap the possibility of lithium excavations in western Serbia.

Environmental protesters stop cars on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

Thousands have joined protests in the past and ecology groups have vowed not to stop until the mining proposals are rejected.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told the pro-government Pink television on Saturday that her government was “close to annulling” any deals with multinational mining company Rio Tinto, which has explored the area and wants to extract lithium.

“We listen to our people,” Brnabic said.

Environmental protesters stand on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

Experts have warned that mining for lithium, a material used for car and other batteries, would destroy the region’s farmland, ecosystem and water.

Serbia faces numerous environmental problems following decades of neglect. The country is swamped with garbage and has very poor air quality.

Improving environmental protection is one of the criteria Serbia needs to fulfill to advance on its path to joining the European Union.

Environmental protesters stand on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

A person walks on the highway during an environmental protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

An environmental protester stands on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

A driver, center, clashes with protesters on the blocked highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)

Environmental protesters stop cars on the highway during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. 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. (AP PhotoDarko Vojinovic)