Brazil's Bolsonaro fuels spat with Europe, fires soar - Kogonuso

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Aug 31, 2019

Brazil's Bolsonaro fuels spat with Europe, fires soar

President Jair Bolsonaro said Friday that Europe has "nothing to teach" Brazil about preserving the environment, as the country aligns itself with the United States over fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
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The far-right leader's comments come as the latest official data show thousands of new fires were ignited across Brazil on Thursday -- the first day of a ban on burning -- with most of them in the Amazon basin.

Offers of international help to combat the worst fires in the Amazon in years have been made, but the issue has provoked accusations in Brazil that foreign countries -- particularly in Europe -- were trying to meddle in its affairs.

Brazil has found an ally in the United States where President Donald Trump has praised Bolsonaro's handling of the crisis and offered US assistance.

After meeting Trump at the White House Friday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo said the two countries were "on the same page" over the fires.

The talks were also attended by Bolsonaro's son and hopeful ambassador to the United States, Eduardo.

"I think we're on the same page, the governments are on the same page," Araujo told reporters, explaining that this means pushing back against what he said was interference in Brazil's affairs by foreign governments concerned over the rainforest's future.

Bolsonaro has accused France and Germany of "buying" Brazil's sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid and he initially rejected the money unless his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron withdrew "insults" made against him.

Bolsonaro later said Brazil would accept bilateral aid to fight the fires, but has insisted the Latin American country must control the money.

Trump said Wednesday that the United States was ready to help Brazil fight the fires and criticized the G7 for failing to consult Bolsonaro over its initiative.

In an escalating war of words, Bolsonaro said Friday Europe has "nothing to teach" Brazil about preserving the environment.

The Brazilian president told reporters he would talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, without specifying when, and repeated a demand that "our dear Macron" retract remarks relating to Brazil's sovereignty over the Amazon before he would speak to him.

"Europe has nothing to teach us about preserving the environment," Bolsonaro said, reiterating his plan for "sustainable exploitation" of the Amazon.

"It will happen," he added.

- More fires -

On the eve of the G7 summit last week, Macron declared the forest fires, which are also affecting Bolivia, an "international crisis" and put them on the agenda of the gathering of the rich democracies.

Macron also accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about Brazil's climate change stance.

Bolsonaro reacted furiously, accusing Macron of having a "colonialist mentality."

Under growing pressure to do more, Bolsonaro issued a nationwide 60-day ban on burning that took effect Thursday.

Activists quickly doused hopes that the prohibition would work in the remote Amazon region where deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened.

On the same day as the ban took effect, 2,300 new fires were detected -- most of them in the Amazon basin -- taking the total number for this year to 87,257, the latest figures from the National Institute for Space Research show.

Nearly 1,500 of the new fires were in the vast Amazon basin.

This year's total is the highest since 2010 when 132,106 fires were detected across the country.

Para was the hardest hit state on Thursday, with 587 new blazes -- up 67 percent from the previous day.

Some 464 fires were started in Mato Grosso, a rise of 274 percent.

In Rondonia, where firefighting efforts were initially concentrated, 67 new fires were registered, nearly three times the previous day.

Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) in a conservation area in Para.

Thousands of troops and firefighters have been deployed since the weekend to combat the fires, along with two C-130 Hercules and other aircraft that are dumping water over affected areas in the country's north.

The defense ministry says the fires are under control.

Bolsonaro claimed in a live broadcast on Facebook on Thursday that "this year's fires are below the average of recent years."

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