Protests Pressure Serbia on Environment

Weekend actions demand cleaner air, end to mining project
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 28, 2021 10:50 AM CST
Rally Demands Cleaner Air
Demonstrators hold banners during a protest for clean air in Belgrade on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

(Newser) – Thousands of people rallied in Belgrade on Sunday to demand an end to Serbia's alarming levels of air pollution. The rally came a day after another environmental protest in which demonstrators blocked bridges and roads in different parts of the country and scuffled with riot police, the AP reports. The protest on Sunday decried the high air pollution in Serbia produced by coal-fueled power plants, a lack of proper air-filtering devices in mines and factories, and the use of old cars and pollution-producing fuels for home heating.

The protesters, carrying banners reading "The Air Is Dangerous" and "You Are Suffocating Us," marched through downtown Belgrade, blowing whistles and chanting anti-government slogans. "We don’t have to measure the pollution, we can see it and feel it," said Bojan Simisic of Eco Guard, the environmental group that organized the protest. "It is killing our children. I don't want my children to be forced to flee the country because of the pollution." Serbia is one of the most polluted nations in Europe. Activists accuse Serbia's populist authorities of allowing foreign investors, mostly from China, to further damage the Balkan nation's environment.

On Saturday, thousands blocked a key traffic artery in Belgrade and in other towns, angered over two laws they say would allow damaging projects. The blockade led to skirmishes with police. In the western town of Sabac, video emerged on social networks of unidentified thugs beating protesters with batons. Western Serbia has been at the center of protests because of a bid by the Rio Tinto mining company to open a lithium mine. The company says it will meet the highest ecological standards, but activists and experts insist the mine would destroy farmland, wildlife, and Serbian rivers. On Sunday, autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic played down the number of protesters Saturday, saying they breached the constitution by "jeopardizing the freedom of movement of other citizens."

(Read more Serbia stories.)

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