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January 22, 2022

Serbia has withdrawn the exploration licences of Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto following weeks of protests over plans for a lithium mine.

"All permits were annulled... we put an end to Rio Tinto in Serbia," Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Thursday.

The decision comes just weeks ahead of Serbia's general election in April.

Relations between Belgrade and Canberra have also soured recently over Australia's treatment and deportation of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic, the world's number one men's tennis player who was unable to compete in the Australian Open, has supported the protests against the controversial mine.

In December, he posted images on social media of demonstrators and green landscapes along with comments written in Serbian such as "clean air and water are the keys to health" and "nature is our mother".

Thousands of demonstrators have been taking to the streets in recent months, blocking main roads in several cities, including the capital Belgrade and the country's second-largest city Novi Sad.

They say the development of a large mine near the town of Loznica in the western Jadar Valley could cause irreparable damage to the landscape and contaminate the region's water supplies.

Rio Tinto had previously said that any mining development in the country would meet both domestic and European Union environmental standards.

Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade on Thursday, Ms Brnabic - Serbia's first woman and first openly gay prime minister - said the decision to abandon the $2.4bn (£1.8bn; A$3.3bn) Jadar lithium mine was made in response to requests from environmental groups.

The project had been due to start production in 2027.

Rio Tinto's shares tumbled in Australia following the news, and were down more than 4% after markets opened in London.