BELGRADE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Hundreds of environmental
protesters blocked several major roads in Serbia on Saturday to
protest against two new laws that they say will give free rein
to foreign mining companies in the country.
Serbia's government has offered mineral resources to
companies including China's Zijin copper miner and
Rio Tinto, but green activists say the projects would
pollute land and water in the Balkan nation.
Chanting slogans against the government and conservative
President Aleksandar Vucic, demonstrators brought traffic to a
standstill in the centre of Belgrade and blocked a stretch of a
main highway through the Serbian capital.
In the northern city of Novi Sad, dozens of protesters
briefly scuffled with police, and protest organisers said
several activists had been detained.
In the western city of Sabac, masked plainclothed men
attacked activists with clubs to force them to open the road for
buses carrying supporters of Vucic's ruling Serbian Progressive
Party to a convention in Belgrade.
"I'm angered because we're an occupied country ... I don't
know why (other) people are silent," said Marija Popovic, 35, a
protester in Belgrade.
The protesters are angry about a recent referendum reform,
which they say will effectively stop popular initiatives against
polluting projects by establishing hefty administrative fees.
They are also opposed to a new expropriation law, which
allows the mandatory acquisition of private land by the state
within eight days.
At his party convention in Belgrade, Vucic who faces general
elections next spring, told throngs of his cheering supporters
that they have shown "what is a decent Serbia."
"When some threatened you with roadblocks ... they did not
know you are most stubborn when they are restricting your
freedoms," he said.
Serbia is one of Europe's most polluted countries and will
need billions of euros to meet the European Union's
environmental standards if it wants to join the bloc.
Rio Tinto has said it would adhere to all domestic and EU
environmental standards at its lithium mine in Serbia. The
government said it would organise a referendum to test popular
support to Rio's project.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic
Editing by Helen Popper and Christina Fincher)