Demonstrators opposed to an international mining company’s plans to mine lithium in western Serbia blocked roads in several cities in the country on January 8 in the latest protest aimed at forcing the government to reject the plans.

The demonstration, which began at 1 p.m. local time and lasted one hour, blocked main highways in the capital, Belgrade, and Novi Sad. An RFE/RL reporter in Novi Sad said the highway was blocked in both directions, and its off-ramps also were blocked, causing long lines of cars.

About 100 people also gathered in Pesak, blocking the main road there. Similar demonstrations were held in other towns and cities.

For weeks, demonstrators have staged regular protests and blocked roads demanding the government reject London-based Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest metals and mining company, which is studying the development of a lithium mine.

Lithium is a key component of car and other batteries, and demand for it is expected to surge in the coming years as automakers switch to the production of battery-powered cars to meet lower carbon emission standards.

The mine would have the potential to generate significant export revenue and jobs for Serbia, especially if the country pursued plans to refine it locally.

But environmental activists say mining for lithium would damage the region’s farmland, ecosystem, and water.

Rio Tinto, which thus far has only carried out explorations, has said it would respect laws and environmental standards.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said her government was “close to deciding to annul” deals that have been reached thus far with Rio Tinto. But she said the government must first estimate what that would cost.

“You don’t want Rio Tinto, you don’t want excavations, all right. Let’s see what we owe,” the prime minister told Pink TV on January 8.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said he would ask Brnabic for “clearer arguments” for any decision to withdraw from agreements reached with Rio Tinto.

The Ecological Uprising Movement has demanded that the government make public all agreements that have been reached with Rio Tinto.

With reporting by AP

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