Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro doubled down in defence of his Amazon policies despite international condemnation for allowing loggers and farmers to trigger the worst wildfires on record.
Mr Bolsonaro, the far-Right former army captain and ally of Donald Trump, used a rare televised address to say that those living in the Amazon basin should be allowed "to develop along with the rest of the country" by exploiting the "incalculable wealth … of natural resources" in the region.
His speech was met with protests across the country, with residents in major Brazilian cities whistling, banging pots and sounding car horns to show their displeasure.
It followed stark warnings from members of the G7 and European countries in particular that threatened to cancel a huge trade deal with Latin America.
There have been about 75,000 fires in the Amazon this year alone, an 83 per cent increase on last year. The fires have been largely blamed on loggers and farmers who have been given the green light by a raft of land and business reforms that have rolled back environmental regulations. Despite the uptick in fires, the number of fines dished out this year has fallen 29.4 per cent.
Some 44,000 troops will be available for "unprecedented" operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.
The military’s first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of water on fires, he said.
“We could not see anything because of the smoke,” he told National Geographic.
Local indigenous groups have also began to speak out about the fires which, along with a rapid increase in deforestation, is threatening their land.
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Brazil’s legendary indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire, famous for his work campaigning in defense of Brazil’s rainforest alongside personalities like pop star Sting, on Friday called for Bolsonaro’s removal from power. "He wants to finish with the forest, with us," he said, accusing Bolsonaro of emboldening farmers, loggers and miners. "We have to get him out soon."
Mr Bolsonaro’s televised speech was delivered with an uncharasmaticly humble tone compared to his usual brash and combative demeanour. Under mounting internal and external pressure, he said the government is "working to combat illegal deforestation … which put our Amazon at risk".
The comments marked a retreat from his previous position blaming the fires on foreign NGOs bent on undermining him.
He added: "Due to my military background and my history as a public figure, I have a profound love and respect for the Amazon", he said.