Thursday, February 27, 2020 | ePaper

After global outcry, Brazil sends army to put out Amazon rainforest fires

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Plumes of thick smoke rose into the sky above dense forest in the northwestern state of Rondonia, where bright orange flames from various fires were visible for kilometers

AFP, Porto Velho, Brazil:
President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday authorized the deployment of Brazil's armed forces to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, as a growing global outcry over the blazes sparks protests and threatens a huge trade deal.
Plumes of thick smoke rose into the sky above dense forest in the northwestern state of Rondonia, where bright orange flames from various fires were visible for kilometers (miles), an AFP photographer reported.
"It's not normal and it's like this because of the smoke from the fires," said a hotel employee in the state capital Porto Velho, which was covered by a layer of smoke as fires burned near the city.
The fires in the world's largest rainforest have sparked street protests around the planet and ignited a war of words between Bolsonaro and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who has described the wildfires as an "international crisis" and vowed to block a trade agreement between the European Union and South American countries.
The latest official figures show 76,720 forest fires were recorded in Brazil so far this year-the highest number for any year since 2013 -- which experts blame on accelerating deforestation as land is cleared during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing.
More than half are in the Amazon.
Around 700 new fires were ignited between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), fueling air contamination in cities including Sao Paulo, where thick smog turned day into night on Monday.
After a late-night crisis meeting with members of his cabinet, Bolsonaro on Friday issued a decree permitting the deployment of armed forces to help extinguish fires and crack down on criminal activities in the region.
Bolsonaro's decision came as demonstrations are held around the world over the fires in the Amazon forest, a region considered the "lungs of the planet" and seen as crucial to keeping climate change in check.
Several thousand protesters marched in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, amid growing European pressure as well as offers to help put out the fires from US President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In an escalating public row over the blazes, Macron on Friday accused Bolsonaro of lying to him on Brazil's stance on climate change.
France will now block a trade deal between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Brazil, a French presidential official said.
Macron had tweeted 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 blasted Macron for having a "colonialist mentality."
Ireland also threatened to block the trade deal.

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