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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.

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