A protest against Rio Tinto’s plans to open the Jadar lithium mine. Source: Reuters
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  • The Serbian government bows to local protestors and pulls the plug on Rio Tinto’s (RIO) plans to develop a massive lithium mine near the city of Loznica
  • Rio Tinto had committed US$2.4 billion (A$3.3 billion) to build the Jadar project, which would have made the ASX-listed miner a top-10 lithium producer globally
  • However, large-scale protests have taken place across Serbia as locals expressed concern around the environmental and community impact of the project
  • As such, the Serbian government has cancelled all decisions and licences linked to the project, saying “this is the end” for Jadar
  • Rio Tinto says it is “extremely concerned” by Serbia’s decision and is reviewing the legal basis for it

The Serbian government has this week bowed to local protestors and pulled the plug on Rio Tinto’s (RIO) plans to develop a massive lithium mine near the city of Loznica.

The move comes months out from a general election in Serbia and in the face of souring relations between Belgrade and Canberra following the deportation of tennis champion Novak Djokovic.

“We are listening to our people, and it is our job to protect their interests even when we think differently,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said.

“All decisions [linked to the lithium project] and all licences have been annulled. As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”

Rio Tinto had committed US$2.4 billion (A$3.3 billion) to build the Jadar project, with first lithium production slated for 2027. If all went according to plan, Jadar would have produced enough lithium to power one million electric vehicles and made Rio Tinto a top 10 lithium producer globally.

However, a series of large-scale protests had gained traction across Serbia over the past several weeks as locals expressed deep concern about the environmental and community impact the Jadar project would have — hence the surprise U-turn from Serbian officials.

Rio Tinto said it was “extremely concerned” by Serbia’s decision to scrap the mine.

“Rio Tinto is reviewing the legal basis of this decision and the implications for our activities and our people in Serbia,” the ASX-listed mining giant said in a statement.

“During our work on the Jadar project, we have always respected the laws of the Republic of Serbia.”

Ms Brnabić, however, said Rio Tinto failed to provide sufficient information to communities about the project.

The Premier also said this week Serbian officials had “never signed contracts” with Rio Tinto and that the government was prepared to fight against any potential lawsuit from the miner relating to the project.

Shares in Rio Tinto were trading almost 5 per cent lower on Friday afternoon at $107.88. The company has a $166.6 billion market cap.

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