(BSS/AFP): 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.
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.
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.
Ireland also threatened to block the deal, and Finland said it would propose to EU countries that they stop importing Brazilian beef.
Bolsonaro insisted that the fires should not be used as an excuse to punish Brazil.
“There are forest fires all over the world, and this cannot be used as a pretext for possible international sanctions,” Bolsonaro said in brief remarks on television Friday evening.