Rally in Serbia draws attention to country’s air pollution

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered in Serbia on Sunday to draw attention to the country’s heavy air pollution and demand that authorities take action to improve air quality.

The protest in central Belgrade was the latest in a series of rallies organized by an increasingly visible environmental movement in the Balkan country.

Serbia – like much of the Western Balkans – faces multiple environmental problems after decades of neglect. Problems include poor waste management, poor air quality and polluted rivers. Weeks of roadblocks attracting thousands of people recently forced authorities to abandon a lithium mining project by the Rio Tinto company in western Serbia.

Organizers of Sunday’s event demanded that the government inform the public about the air quality index on national television. They said bad air kills thousands of people every year in Serbia.

“Serbia has a very dramatic problem with air pollution,” said one of the organizers, Bojan Simsic. “We have the highest mortality in Europe and one of the highest…in the world (due to poor air quality).”

The protesters included families with young children. Some carried banners reading “Stop Air Pollution! or “You are suffocating us!” They blocked traffic on a central street before marching to the seat of government.

Experts say the poor air quality in Belgrade is the result of the use of poor quality coal at nearby power plants, the presence of thousands of polluting old cars in the capital and old heating systems domesticated. Serbia must solve its environmental problems before it can join the European Union.

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