BRASILIA • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said yesterday that he is considering deploying the army to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, amid growing international pressure over the wildfires.
The fires raging in parts of the world's largest rainforest have sparked protests around the world, ignited a war of words between Mr Bolsonaro and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and threatened a blockbuster trade deal with the European Union.
The latest official figures show 76,720 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil so far this year - the highest number for any year since 2013. More than half are in the Amazon.
"The tendency is that," Mr Bolsonaro told reporters in Brazil's capital Brasilia, when asked if he was considering sending the army to fight the fires. He said a decision would be made later yesterday.
Mr Bolsonaro's remarks come as demonstrations were held around the world over the fires in the Amazon forest, a region considered the "lungs of the planet".
Several hundred people gathered opposite the central London embassy, unfurling signs such as "Stop Destruction Now".
Protests over the fires were also set to take place in other European cities yesterday, and demonstrations were also scheduled for today.
In an escalating public row over the blazes, Mr Macron yesterday accused Mr Bolsonaro of lying to him on Brazil's stance on climate change. He said France would now block a trade deal between the EU and South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, a French presidential official said.
Mr Macron had tweeted on Thursday that fires burning in the Amazon amount to an international crisis and should be discussed as a top priority when the Group of Seven (G-7) countries meet this weekend in France.
"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest - the lungs which produce 20 per cent of our planet's oxygen - is on fire," Mr Macron wrote.
Mr Bolsonaro then blasted Mr Macron for meddling. "The French President's suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century," he wrote on Twitter. Brazil is not a member of the G-7.
Ireland also threatened to block the trade deal if Brazil failed to curb the fires, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday.
He said the Irish government would closely monitor Brazil's environmental actions in the two years until the Mercosur deal was ratified.
Ireland and France would need other EU states to help form a blocking minority if they want to kill the deal, reached in June after 20 years of negotiations.
I regret that President Macron is seeking to use the internal matters of Brazil and other Amazon countries for political gain.
BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT JAIR BOLSONARO, in a retort to the tweet.
HOUSE ON FIRE
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest - the lungs which produce 20 per cent of our planet's oxygen - is on fire.
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, on Twitter.
But the EU executive, the European Commission, warned against burying the deal, saying it could help to put pressure on Brazil. "This is the best way to create legally binding commitments with countries that we want to respect our environmental standards," said commission spokesman Mina Andreeva.
More world leaders spoke up yesterday. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "deeply concerned" about the fires.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said the fires posed a threat not only to Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said the Amazon must be protected, given that the world was in the midst of a global climate crisis.
Environmental specialists say the fires have accompanied a rapid rate of deforestation in the Amazon region, which in July quadrupled compared with the same month last year, according to data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research.
Mr Bolsonaro instead attributed the fires to increased drought, and accused environmental groups and non-governmental organisations of whipping up an "environmental psychosis" to harm Brazil's economic interests.
Neighbouring Peru, which contains much of the Amazon basin, announced it was "on alert" for wildfires spreading from neighbouring Brazil and Bolivia.
Meanwhile, Paraguay and Bolivia are battling separate wildfires that have devastated large areas of their rainforests.