Thousands Protest In Serbian Capital Against Lithium Mine, Environmental Problems.

Thousands of Serbs have taken to the streets in Belgrade to protest against the planned development of a large lithium mine in the Balkan country and to call for tougher environmental controls.

The protesters gathered outside the parliament building in Belgrade on September 11, where they denounced the plans to develop lithium before stopping traffic on one of the city's main bridges for an hour.

The rally was organized by about 30 environmental groups whose influence has grown amid widespread concerns over pollution problems facing the region.

Nenad Kostic, a chemistry professor, told the crowd there was no such thing as "green" mining, a reference to lithium's classification as a green energy source because of its use to power electric cars.

London-based Rio Tinto, the world's second-largest metals and mining company, is studying possible development of Serbia's lithium mine, believed to be one of the largest in Europe.

The mine has the potential to generate significant revenue and jobs for Serbia, especially if the country pursues plans to refine it locally and develop battery plants.

Rio Tinto has said it would invest as much as $2.4 billion to develop the project.

However, protesters say Serbia's rivers, natural surroundings, and air quality have already been endangered enough by profit-seeking government policies and fear fertile agricultural lands in the western regions will be harmed by the project.

"Our demand is that the government of Serbia annul all obligations to Rio Tinto," said Aleksandar Jovanovic, one of the organizers. "We have gathered to say no to those who offer concentrated sulphuric acid instead of raspberries and honey."

Organizers warned more protests lay ahead if the government doesn't heed their demands.

More than 100,000 people have already signed a petition against the development of the lithium mine.

The rise of Serbia's environmental protest movement has also been driven by pollution problems caused by coal-powered plants run by Chinese companies and poor garbage management.

Rivers have been polluted by toxic industrial waste and many cities, including Belgrade, lack good sewage and wastewater systems.

With reporting by AP

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