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UPDATE: Bolsonaro mulls deploying army to combat Amazon fires

Friday, August 23, 2019

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PORTO VELHO,Brazil(AFP) — Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday he is considering deploying the army to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, as a growing global outcry over the blazes threatens to torpedo a huge trade deal.

A layer of smoke hung over Porto Velho, the capital of the north western state of Rondonia, on Friday morning as fires burned near the city.

"It's not normal and it's like this because of the smoke from the fires," a hotel employee told AFP.

Some 65 kilometres (40 miles) away plumes of smoke rose into the sky as bright orange flames ripped through dense forest.

The fires in the world's largest rainforest have sparked 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. 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), fuelling air contamination in cities including Sao Paulo, where thick smog turned day into night on Monday.

Bolsonaro told reporters in Brazil's capital Brasilia that he would decide Friday on whether to send the army to the fire-ravaged areas.

"The tendency is that," Bolsonaro said, after holding a late-night crisis meeting with members of his cabinet.

Bolsonaro's remarks come 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.

Protests are planned in Brazil's major cities later Friday, as European leaders express growing concern over the destruction.

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 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. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the fires as "heartbreaking."

"The extent of the fires in the Amazon area is shocking and threatening and not only for Brazil and the other affected countries, but also for the whole world," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Friday.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said Thursday he was "deeply concerned" by the fires.


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