After widespread environmental protests, the local authorities of western Serbia have stopped plans for a lithium mine.
Rio Tinto, the mining giant, was expected to begin work in the near future. However, a Loznica town council voted to suspend a regional planning plan that allowed the excavation of lithium.
The vote came just days after Serbia’s parliament had suspended two key laws which ecologists claimed would allow the mining firm to start the project.
Three weekends in succession, thousands of protestors in Belgrade blocked main roads to stop Rio Tinto’s plans.
The rallies were seen as the biggest challenge yet to Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
“Whether there will be a mine depends on people [in western Serbia] and the study on environmental impact assessment,” said Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić
Rio Tinto stated that it would comply with all environmental protection standards. However, protesters claimed that the lithium excavation could cause long-term ecological damage to rivers in the region.
Now that the lithium mine plans are on hold, Vučić has said that Serbia will “have to speak in a different way to Rio Tinto and others”.
The multi-national company has been accused of corruption, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses at its excavation sites over its nearly 150-year-old history.
As more people shift to renewable energy sources, lithium, which is used for batteries in electric cars, will be one of the most sought-after metals in the future.
As Serbia faces an electricity shortage, Vučić has ignored European Union pleas for countries to reduce CO2 emissions and has even pledged to expand coal mining for power plants — much to the frustration of environmentalists.