Serbian citizens, in their several thousands, have taken to the streets on Saturday on several environmental issues of the Balkan country, most notably a demand for a ban on planned lithium mining. Serbia faces many environmental problems that have made the region one of the most polluted in Europe.

The rally in downtown Belgrade was organized by about 30 ecological groups who recently gained popularity in Serbia amid widespread disillusionment with mainstream politicians and amid major pollution problems facing the region, the Associated Press reported.

Several banners were seen through which people demanded protection of Serbia’s rivers, nature, and air. Protestors say that the Serbian rivers have been endangered by profit-seeking government policies and decades of neglect.

The protesters then marched on to block one of the main bridges in the capital. Though the blockade only lasted for a while, the protestors announced several other such blockades in the rest of the country in the coming months.

A petition against international Rio Tinto mining company has got more than 100,000 signatures. The company is seeking to construct a lithium mine in the western parts of the country that is rich in the mineral used in the production of electric car batteries.

“Our demand is that the government of Serbia annul all obligations to Rio Tinto. We have gathered to say no to those who offer concentrated sulphuric acid instead of raspberries and honey,” AP quoted a protestor as saying.

A number of experts have warned that the environment in western Serbia would suffer in the case of exploitation of lithium in the area that is rich in fertile land and agriculture. Serbia has also faced huge pollution problems caused by coal-powered plants run by Chinese companies.

In addition to mining, Serbia has faced mounting problems that include poor garbage management and high air pollution caused by the use of poor-quality coal and other pollutants. Rivers have been polluted by toxic industrial waste and many cities, including Belgrade, lack good sewage and wastewater systems.

The Balkan nations must substantially improve their environmental protection policies if they want to move forward in their bids to join the 27-nation EU. Impoverished and marred by corruption after years of wars in the 1990s, many Balkan countries have pushed environmental issues to the sidelines.

Rio Tinto has committed $2.4 billion to the project in Serbia which would make it one of the world’s largest producers of lithium amid increasing demand for electric cars.