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Brazilian president deploys army to fight Amazon fires and prevent illegal deforestation

Global condemnation on Bolsonaro’s perceived inaction to date on the fires is growing.

A raging fire in the Amazon rainforest in the state of Tocantins, Brazil
A raging fire in the Amazon rainforest in the state of Tocantins, Brazil
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Aug 24th 2019, 7:41 AM

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT JAIR Bolsonaro has authorised the deployment of Brazil’s armed forces to help combat ongoing fires in the Amazon rainforest.

After a crisis meeting with members of his cabinet last night, Bolsonaro issued a decree allowing the deployment of country’s armed forces to help extinguish fires and crack down on criminal activities in the region.

The fires in the world’s largest rainforest have sparked street protests around the world and led to a clash between Bolsonaro and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

The French president described the wildfires as an “international crisis” and vowed to block the Mercosur trade agreement between the European Union and a bloc of South American countries.

It follows similar comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was reported yesterday to have said that Ireland will vote against the deal unless Brazil took steps to protect the Amazon.

Latest official figures show that 76,720 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil so far this year, the highest number for any year since records began in 2013.

Experts blame the blazes on accelerating deforestation as land is cleared during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing.

More than half of the fires are in the Amazon.

Air contamination and smog

Around 700 new fires were ignited between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), leading to air contamination in cities including Sao Paulo, where thick smog appeared on Monday.

Bolsonaro’s decision followed demonstrations around the world over the fires in the Amazon, a region described as the “lungs of the planet” and seen as crucial to combating climate change.

In Brazil, thousands of protesters marched in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, amid growing European pressure and offers to help put out the fires from US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In Dublin, a protest took place at the Brazilian embassy yesterday afternoon, when dozens of protesters occupied the lobby of the building while others sat down outside holding placards.

amazon-forest-fires-protest-in-brazil Demonstrators gather in the in Brazilian city of Curitiba in view of the devastating forest fires in the Amazon Source: DPA/PA Images

International tensions

In an escalating public row over the fires, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Bolsonaro of lying to him on Brazil’s stance on climate change.

France has threatened to block a trade deal between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, following a similar threat by Varadkar.

Finland also said it would propose that the EU stops importing Brazilian beef.

However, Bolsonaro insisted that the fires should not be used as an excuse to punish Brazil.

“There are forest fires all over the world, and this cannot be used as a pretext for possible international sanctions,” he said on television on Friday evening.

brazil-amazon-fires Virgin jungle stands next to an area that was burnt recently near Porto Velho, Brazil Source: Victor R. Caivano/PA Images

Macron had tweeted on Thursday that the fires burning in the Amazon amount to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the G7 countries meet this weekend in France.

Bolsonaro then hit out at Macron as having a “colonialist mentality.”

He attributes the fires to increased drought, and accuses environmental groups and NGOs of whipping up an “environmental psychosis” to harm Brazil’s economic interests.

He also accused NGOs of starting the fires earlier this week.

But environmental specialists say the fires have accompanied a rapid rate of deforestation in the Amazon region.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019.

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