BELGRADE, Serbia (LifeSiteNews) – Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić announced Thursday that the eastern European nation terminated a lucrative lithium mining project with Australian firm Rio Tinto, days after Australia booted Serbian tennis ace Novak Djokovic over his stance on the coronavirus jabs.
Citing environmental concerns raised by citizens, including Djokovic, Brnabić said that the Serbian government has “fulfilled all the demands from the environmental protests and have put an end to Rio Tinto in the Republic of Serbia” in a televised address on January 20.
“All decisions and all licences have been annulled. As far as the project Jadar is concerned, this is the end,” the prime minister added.
The Jadar project in western Serbia, near the town of Loznica, was to be Rio Tinto’s flagship project into which the mining giant had already injected $450 million. The company had hoped that excavating the reserve would be worth $2.4 billion and have placed them among the world’s top 10 lithium miners.
Rio Tinto said it was “blindsided” by the government’s decision to cancel the project.
The termination of the deal initially caused Rio Tinto’s stock to dip by 2.2 points, resulting in a $5 billion loss in value within 48 hours of the news.
The mining titan said it is “extremely concerned” and is in discussion with its lawyers over the development.
“Throughout our work on the Jadar project, we have always operated in compliance with the laws of the Republic of Serbia,” the company said in a statement. “Rio Tinto is reviewing the legal basis of this decision and the implications for our activities and our people in Serbia.”
In December, Djokovic posted images to his social media accounts in support of protests against the planned excavation of the Jadar site, with the caption “clean air and water are the keys to health.”
Brnabić stated Thursday that ministers are “listening to our people and it is our job to protect their interests even when we think differently.”
The decision to ax the project came just days after Australian authorities saw fit to deport the world’s number one tennis player over a feud regarding his COVID-19 jab status.
After the Australian Border Force (ABF) denied Djokovic’s visa upon entry into the country at the beginning of January, the Serb won an appeal in the Federal Court Circuit days later, ordering that he be released from mandatory isolation.
Judge Anthony Kelly noted that “rules were not observed” as the ABF revoked the player’s visa, giving them just 30 minutes to heed his order.
However, despite satisfying the strict medical exemption requirements of both the state of Victoria and the tournament, and with a court appeal on his side, Australia immigration minister Alex Hawke determined that upholding the revocation of Djokovic’s visa was “in the public interest to do so.”
Rather than basing this decision on medical science, Hawke determined that Djokovic’s “ongoing presence in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community.”
Both Brnabić and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić derided the Australian government at the time, characterizing the move as “scandalous” and a “witch hunt.” Owing to the tensions between Belgrade and Canberra over Djokovic’s deportation, commentators have speculated that the cancellation of the mining project was made in retaliation.