Europe

Serbian protesters demand more action to stop industrial pollution

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A man with a painted leaf on his cheek attends a protest to urge Serbia's government to do more to prevent industrial pollution, in Belgrade, Serbia, September 11, 2021. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

BELGRADE, Sept 11 (Reuters) - About 2,000 protesters marched through Belgrade on Saturday to urge Serbia's government to do more to prevent industrial pollution, and some denounced plans by Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto to develop a lithium mine.

Waving banners and white flags, the protesters blocked one of the main bridges in the capital for two hours, calling for more action against water, air and land pollution by industries such as mining and power production.

"There is no forgiveness for poisoning nature. That is the crime which cannot be forgiven," declared one banner.

Another said: "Rio Tinto go away."

Serbia has in recent years started selling mining resources to foreign companies, despite opposition by local residents warning that increased ore exploration could cause greater pollution.

In July, Rio Tinto (RIO.L) committed $2.4 billion to a project to explore and process lithium in Serbia. read more

The Serbian government sees the project as a chance to boost the national economy but many Serbs fear it will damage the environment.

Rio Tinto Serbia CEO Vesna Prodanovic has said the company will meet all European Union and Serbian environmental regulations, including on the treatment of wastewater.

Coal-fired power plants and a copper mine run by China's Zijin (601899.SS) has also faced criticism.

According to a World Health Organization study published in 2019, air pollution was the main cause of some 6,600 deaths in Serbia annually.

The former Yugoslav republic, which in the 1990s went through a decade of wars and economic crisis, has lacked resources to tackle pollution. As it seeks to join the EU, Serbia will need billions of euros of investment to meet the bloc's environmental standards.

"I came here to support this wider protest for our air, water and environment," said Jovana Stefanovic, a pensioner. "Natural resources are getting scarce and we need to be careful about it."

"I came here today to make Rio Tinto leave," said another protester, Danica Vujicic. "We have to put an end to it (pollution), otherwise our children will not have a future."

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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