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'Anti-Environment' Laws Trigger New Protests In Serbia.

BELGRADE/NOVI SAD -- Hundreds of demonstrators are gathering in Belgrade and other cities and town across Serbia to protest against new legal amendments they contend favor private companies to the detriment of citizens and the environment.

This is the second Saturday in a row in which citizens are taking to the streets against recent government moves to lower the referendum threshold and allow for swift expropriation of private property if deemed in the public interest.

The wave of protests come as Serbia faces major environmental problems, such as air and water pollution, and poor waste management.

At 2 p.m. local time on December 4, protesters were blocking traffic at a highway in the capital, Belgrade, as well as a bridge in Novi Sad, while the city's main boulevard was also partially blocked .

Similar rallies are being held elsewhere in the country.

Ahead of the rallies, the Interior Ministry warned that the blockades were illegal.

President Aleksandar Vucic has said there will be no action against the protesters by law enforcement "as long as they do not endanger the lives and property of people and institutions."

On November 27, thousands of protesters blocked traffic at roads and bridges in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Sabac, Kragujevac, and several other cities and towns.

Several demonstrators were detained.

The rallies, organized by nongovernmental organizations, were joined by representatives of several opposition parties and local associations.

Environmental groups and civil society organizations argue recently adopted amendments to the law on expropriation and referendums will pave the way for foreign companies to circumvent popular discontent over projects such as a bid by the Rio Tinto company to launch a lithium mine in western Serbia.

Serbian authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the new laws are needed because of infrastructure projects.

Vucic said a referendum will be organized on the Rio Tinto mine, which experts have warned would destroy farmland and pollute the water.

Rio Tinto has said that it will respect all Serbian laws and denied its project could endanger the environment.

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