Serbia. Landmine protesters block roads near State Day event | Radio WGN 720

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Hundreds of protesters opposed to lithium mining in Serbia blocked roads near a government building where the Balkan country’s populist president was awarding state decorations on Tuesday, which was a day holiday.

Police cordons prevented protesters from getting too close to the New Belgrade venue as President Aleksandar Vucic greeted guests inside. Actor Johnny Depp, who received a medal for his contributions to culture, cinema and the promotion of Serbia, was honored by Vucic on Serbia’s State Day.

Depp had the lead role in “Puffins Impossible”, an animated television series created in Serbia. He has visited the Balkan country several times, including during a film festival organized by director Emir Kusturica.

Vucic has also decorated several dozen other people and institutions with merits in health, culture, economy, politics or other fields.

Several incidents related to the protests were reported, including angry drivers pushing through crowds stopping traffic.

A group of environmental activists camped outside the Presidency building in central Belgrade for several days while demanding a legal ban on lithium and borate mining in Serbia. Activists called Tuesday’s rally in another part of the capital to draw more attention to their cause.

Environmental protests have become a challenge for the Vucic government ahead of Serbia’s April 3 general election. The government tried to defuse the movement by saying it had canceled a planned lithium mining project in western Serbia by the company Rio Tinto.

Activists are now demanding a ban on lithium and borate mining nationwide. They argued that the cancellation of the Rio Tinto project was temporary and did not guarantee that there would not be similar projects in the future.

Savo Manojlovic of the Kreni-Promeni, or Go-Change, group said protests would continue ahead of the election. Serbia needs to tackle a number of environmental issues, including poor waste management and air and water pollution, to move towards EU membership.

Vucic is expected to sign a decree later Tuesday dissolving parliament so that a snap parliamentary election can be held at the same time as presidential and municipal polls in Belgrade and several cities.

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