Protesters Block Serbia Roads on Mines 12/04 08:47
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -- Thousands of protesters in Belgrade and other
Serbian towns blocked main roads and bridges Saturday to decry a planned
lithium mine despite police warnings and an intimidation campaign launched by
authorities against the demonstrators.
Blowing whistles and chanting "Uprising! Uprising!" protesters stopped
traffic on the main highway that goes through the Serbian capital. In the
Balkan nation's second-largest city of Nis, the main downtown street was
blocked, as was a Danube River bridge in the northern city of Novi Sad.
In Novi Sad, soccer hooligans hurled rocks and bottles at the protesters,
who responded by chasing them down. One hooligan was severely beaten.
Uniformed police were not visible during the two-hour protests.
It was the second such nationwide protest called by environmental groups
amid growing public discontent with the autocratic rule of Serbian President
Aleksandar Vucic. Last Saturday, the protesters skirmished with police and in
one town unidentified masked men attacked them with sticks and hammers.
Environmental groups have criticized Vucic's populist government for not
combating widespread pollution enough in the Balkan nation. They are especially
against two laws passed by parliament that they see as laying the groundwork
for a lithium mining operation by Rio Tinto in western Serbia.
In a sign of defiance, Vucic on Saturday ignored the protests and traveled
to the site where the international mining company plans to start its
excavations. His office said he wanted to talk to the locals about the project.
"Our goal is to have a civilized conversation and not under pressure from
the streets," Vucic told the pro-government Pink TV, adding that the police
will not intervene Saturday against the protesters.
Many protesters complained that police officers came to their homes and
warned them they could face legal consequences and fines if they took part 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
amounted to a "criminal act."
"I don't see how this is a criminal act," Vujosevic told N1 regional
television. Vujosevic's daughter could be seen holding a small banner reading
"I am public interest!"
The police on Saturday repeated their warning that the protests are illegal
and that the organizers will have to bear all eventual consequences. They also
issued a special telephone number and an email address for anyone who wanted to
report "violence caused by the blockade."
Vucic and other Serbian officials have denounced the protests and alleged
they are financed by the West to destabilize the country.