Skirmishes have erupted in Serbia between police and demonstrators who blocked roads and bridges to protest against new laws they say favour the interests of foreign investors damaging the environment.
The government has offered mineral resources to companies including China’s Zijin copper miner and Rio Tinto, but activists say the projects would pollute land and water.
Serbia’s authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the new laws are needed because of infrastructure projects. President Aleksandar Vucic said a referendum will be organised on the Rio Tinto mine.
Experts have warned that the planned lithium mine would destroy farmland and pollute the waters.
Rio Tinto has said it would adhere to all domestic and European Union environmental standards at the site. It plans to invest $2.4bn in the project, according to Vesna Prodanovic, director of Rio Sava, Rio Tinto’s sister company in Serbia.
Following decades of neglect, Serbia has faced major environmental problems such as air and water pollution, poor waste management and other issues.
Serbia is a candidate nation for European Union entry, but little so far has been achieved with regards to improving the country’s environmental situation.