Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the referendum, expropriation, and Rio Tinto's intentions to establish a lithium mine near Loznica on December 4.
As previously announced, demonstrators stopped all significant routes in Serbia around 2 p.m. Protesters in Belgrade stopped all crossings save the Old Sava Bridge.
In Novi Sad, the police were forced to interfere after approximately 30 young men attacked the protesters. However, the demonstrators banded together and beat up the hooligans, forcing them to flee. Belgrade, Stara Pazova, Vranje, and Valjevo also reported violent occurrences.
Protesters, organized by several environmental organizations, have expressed broad displeasure with the Serbian parliament's expropriation law, claiming that it allows for the "sold" of the state to foreign businesses such as Rio Tinto.
The Rio Tinto project is one of the most despised in Serbia, with many Serbs viewing it as textbook neo-colonialism that will only exacerbate the country's pollution problems.
Boris Malagurski, a Serbian journalist, has released a very successful documentary about Rio Tinto in Serbia, highlighting all the negative aspects of Rio Tinto's global operations.
Several opposition politicians in Serbia have attempted to use the protests to heal the current government. Dragan Djilas, the Party of Freedom and Justice leader, addressed the Belgrade protests.
Like other opposition leaders, he stated that while he supported the protests, he was not affiliated with their organization.
Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic stated that while the populace suffers, Djilas and others attempt to sow instability to reclaim power at whatever cost, despite the populace's wishes. "Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is speaking with residents of the Loznica region, and it is these residents that Djilas is luring to blockades in Belgrade," he explained.
During the protest, Vucic visited the villages surrounding Loznica, where there is the most worry about Rio Tinto's study. He urged citizens to bear in mind that investors' exit from Serbia is costly and reaffirmed that no one in Belgrade would act against their interests.
"We will resolve the issue with the expropriation law within the next seven to eight days," he stated.
Rio Tinto's Jadar lithium project will assist the company in meeting the growing demand for lithium, which is expected to increase significantly in the future years as the metal is used in electric vehicle batteries, consumer electronics such as smartphones, and other applications. Rio Tinto estimates that it will become Europe's largest lithium supplier for 15 years if the project is approved.
The protests concluded late Saturday afternoon, and organizers have scheduled further demonstrations for the following Saturday.
Following the protest, Finance Minister Sinisa Mali stated that the government of Serbia should examine revisions to the newly adopted Law on Expropriation during the session set for December 9.
He stated that Vucic had not yet signed the expropriation law just voted by parliament, adding that the bill was constitutional but would be altered due to the tight timeframe of only five days to decide on the sale of land.
Mali asserts that the revisions to the Expropriation Law were not enacted in response to the Jadar project or the Rio Tinto lithium mine in western Serbia, as demonstrators allege.