BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday the army may be enlisted to help combat fires sweeping through the Amazon rainforest, as international condemnation and calls for tough action to quell the unfolding crisis continued to mount.
Asked by reporters in Brasilia if he would send in the army, Bolsonaro responded: “that is the expectation.”
The firebrand right-wing president added the decision would be made at a top-level meeting later on Friday.
According to the presidential agenda, Bolsonaro is set to meet with a team that includes the defense and environment ministers and the foreign minister at 3 p.m. local time (1800 GMT).
Fires in the Amazon have surged 83% so far this year compared with the same period a year ago, government figures show, destroying vast swathes of a forest considered a vital bulwark against global climate change.
The leaders of Britain and France have added their voices to an international chorus of concern, with President Emmanuel Macron’s office accusing Bolsonaro of lying when he played down concerns over climate change at the G20 summit in June.
Macron’s office added that, given this context, France would be opposed to the E.U.-Mercosur farming deal struck earlier this year between the European Union and the Mercosur countries of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply concerned” about the fires and “the impact of the tragic loss of these precious habitats,” and that he would use the summit of G7 leaders this weekend to call for a renewed focus on protecting nature.
On Thursday, as international criticism mounted, Bolsonaro told foreign powers not to interfere.
“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity. … They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he said.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, William James in London and Marine Pennetier in Paris; Writing by Jamie McGeever and Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)