Nova daily: Serbia’s Govt. was ready to secure permits for Rio Tinto in 2017

Rio Tinto

Serbia's Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio Tinto in 2017, expressing its readiness to provide all necessary permits for mines and lithium ore processing, said a document published by the Nova daily on Wednesday.

Nova wrote that Prime Minister Ana Brnabic’s Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Rio Tinto Minerals Development Limited and Rio Sava Exploration doo Belgrade.

The non-binding memorandum shows the Government’s intention to cooperate with Rio Tinto and enable the company to exploit lithium in western Serbia and form a joint working group to implement and oversee critical aspects of the ‘Jadar’ project.

Serbia’s Government also said it was ready to ensure effective and efficient coordination between various bodies and institutions regarding the procedure for issuing permits for mines and ore processing, the daily said.

Rio Tinto is expected to act according to internal guidelines, rules and procedures in the implementation of the project, continue with geological research and studies of the Jadar deposit, and fully and actively promote Serbia’s and international environmental standards, the document stipulates.

Brnabic said the project would start in 2023, the daily reported.

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The environmentalists, opposition, NGOs and ordinary people strongly oppose lithium mining, saying it will irreparably destroy nature and endanger health.

The Rio Tinto project caused controversy regarding the amendments to two controversial laws – on expropriation and referendum.

Opponents say the first enables the state to take the private property at their will, justifying it with national interests, while the second, by excluding a mandatory 50 plus one percent of a turnout for a referendum, also makes it possible for the authorities to get a wanted result.

The authorities previously insisted on an enormous economic benefit from the Rio Tinto project but later denied any deal had been made and said the project would get a green light only following a local referendum and an environmental study.

The last weekend’s blockade of the country’s main roads against the laws saw some incidents between demonstrators and unknown men in hoodies said to be sent by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) led by the head of state Aleksandar Vucic, who used sticks, hammers and an excavator against peaceful rallies.

The police reacted only against some protesters.

A new mass protest is scheduled for Saturday.