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Amazon fires fan political flames with France, while under-pressure Brazilian president sends in army to battle blazes

The European Union and Germany are backing French President Emmanuel Macron's call to put the Amazon fires on the agenda of this weekend's G-7 summit of world leaders in France.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva says the EU's trade agreement with the Mercosur countries of South America, including Brazil, obliges them to respect the Paris climate change agreement and uphold environmental standards.

Brazils President Jair Bolsonaro arrive to attend a military ceremony for the Day of the Soldier, at Army Headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil. Source: Associated Press

Under international pressure to contain fires sweeping through parts of Brazil's Amazon, President Jair Bolsonaro today authorised use of the military to battle the huge blazes while thousands took to the streets to protest his environmental policies.

People demonstrate demanding something be done about the fires that have been breaking out at an unusual pace in Brazil this year, causing global alarm over deforestation in the Amazon region, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Source: Associated Press

Brazilian forces will deploy starting tomorrow to border areas, indigenous territories and other affected regions in the Amazon to assist in putting out fires for a month, according to a presidential decree authorising use of the army.

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

Fire consumes the jungle near Porto Velho, Brazil. Source: Associated Press

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.

Meanwhile, in a sharp escalation of tensions with Brazil, France is accusing President Jair Bolsonaro of having lied to French leader Emmanuel Macron and says it now opposes a trade deal with the South American bloc Mercosur because of his environmental back-peddling.

A statement from the Elysee Palace accused Bolsonaro of failing to respect his "commitments on the climate" and of failing to protect biodiversity and said that Macron "can only note that President Bolsonaro lied to him."

This Aug. 21, 2019 satellite image courtesy of Planet Labs, Inc. shows smoke billowing from forest fires in Nova Bandeirantes in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Source: Associated Press


"In light of Brazil's attitude these recent weeks," the statement said, Macron "can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him during the Osaka Summit" in June where governments agreed on the "urgent need" to tackle climate change, pollution and environmental destruction.

"The decisions and statements from Brazil these recent weeks show clearly that President Bolsonaro has decided to not respect his commitments on the climate, nor to involve himself on the issue of biodiversity."

As a consequence, France now opposes an EU trade deal "in its current state" with the Mercosur bloc of South American nations that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho, Brazil. Source: Associated Press

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency monitoring deforestation and wildfires, said the country has seen a record number of wildfires this year, counting 74,155 as of Tuesday, an 84 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

Bolsonaro took office on January 1.

Demonstrators march holding a banner with a message that reads in Portuguese: "The Amazon belongs to the people", during a protest demanding action from Brazil's government combating the fires in the Amazon in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, August 23, 2019. Source: Associated Press