Brazil sends in army to tackle devastating Amazon fires as thousands protest against president

A house is seen surrounded by land scorched by wildfires near Porto Velho in Brazil (Picture: AP)

Brazil’s president has ordered the army to battle the huge fires sweeping through the Amazon as thousands of people protested against his environmental policies.

Jair Bolonsaro authorised the use of the military to tackle the record number of fires sweeping through the rainforest.

According to a presidential decree authorising use of the army, the forces will be deployed to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions in the Amazon from Saturday to assist in putting out fires for a month.

The military will "act strongly" to control the wildfires, Mr Bolsonaro promised as he signed the decree.

The armed forces will collaborate with public security and environmental protection agencies, the decree says.

"The protection of the forest is our duty," the president said.

"We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised for his environmental policies (Picture: AFP/Getty)
A fire burns a field on a farm in the Nova Santa Helena municipality, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil (Picture: AP)

"We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different."

However, Mr Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil's economic development, sparring with critics who note that the Amazon produces vast amounts of oxygen and is considered crucial for efforts to contain climate change.

As the president spoke, thousands of Brazilians demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the capital of Brasilia demanding the government announce concrete actions to curb the fires.

Demonstrators in Sao Paulo march holding a banner that reads in Portuguese: "Burn the fascists not the rainforest" (Picture: AP)
An environmental activist seen holding a placard outside the Brazilian embassy in London (Picture: PA)

People also banged pots from their homes, a traditional mode of protest in South America.

Demonstrators gathered outside Brazilian embassies in Paris, London, Geneva and Bogota, Colombia, to urge Brazil to do more to fight the fires.

Larger protests were held in Uruguay and Argentina. Hundreds also protested in Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

French president Emmanuel Macron has accused his Brazilian counterpart of lying about the rainforest (Picture: Getty)

In escalating tension over the fires, French president Emmanuel Macron accused Mr Bolsonaro of lying to him and threatened to block a European Union trade deal with several South American states, including Brazil.

Ahead of the G7 summit in France this weekend, Mr Macron questioned Mr Bolsonaro's trustworthiness.

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Mr Macron said Brazilian statements and decisions indicate Mr Bolsonaro "has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity”.

He said France now opposes an EU trade deal “in its current state” with the bloc of South American nations that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Mr Bolsonaro has accused Mr Macron of politicising the issue, and his government said European countries are exaggerating Brazil's environmental problems in order to disrupt its commercial interests

But neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay have also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields, in many cases set to clear land for farming.

About 2,900 square miles of land has been affected in Bolivia, defence minister Javier Zavaleta said.

Trucks drive alongside scorched fields on the BR163 highway in the Nova Santa Helena municipality, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil (Picture: AP)
Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho in Brazil on Friday (Picture: AP)

Some 140 square miles have burned in northern Paraguay, near the borders with Brazil and Bolivia, said Joaquin Roa, a Paraguayan state emergency official.

Close to 20% of the Amazon has already been deforested, said Thomas Lovejoy, a George Mason University environmental scientist.

US president Donald Trump said on Friday that he had spoken with Mr Bolsonaro.

"Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before," Mr Trump tweeted. "I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!"

Argentina, which is struggling with rising poverty and austerity measures, has offered to send emergency workers to Brazil and Bolivia to help battle the fires. Chile also offered aid.

Mr Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, said it was difficult to curb increasing deforestation with limited resources.

"It's not easy to fight deforestation, our Amazon area is bigger than all of Europe," he said. "We'll do what we can to fight this crime."

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