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Brazil sends army to tackle Amazon fires

Media captionMembers of Brazil’s indigenous Mura tribe vow to defend their land

Brazil’s president has ordered the armed forces to help fight a record number of forest fires in the Amazon.

A decree issued by President Jair Bolsonaro authorises the deployment of soldiers in nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas in the region.

The announcement comes after intense pressure from European leaders.

France and Ireland say they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to tackle blazes in the Amazon.

Finland’s finance minister has also called on the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports.

Finland is currently president of the Council of the EU – a role which is rotated among member states every six months.

Image caption

Protesters outside the Brazilian embassy in London

Environmental groups have called for protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to demand action to combat the fires.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the Brazilian embassies around the world, including in London, Berlin, Mumbai and Paris.

“We can’t stand around waiting for the sky to turn black all the way here in London too,” protester Laura Villares House, 33, told BBC Brasil.

Why does the Amazon matter?

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

It is known as the “lungs of the world” and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Media captionOne campaigner called the forest fires a “vicious cycle”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Thursday: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”

How bad are the fires and who is responsible for them?

Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region.

Mr Bolsonaro has brushed off the latest data, arguing that it was the season of the “queimada”, when farmers burn land to clear it before planting.

However, Inpe has noted that the number of fires is not in line with those normally reported during the dry season.

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

Conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land.

During his campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency.

Mr Bolsonaro has suggested that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started the fires, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim. In comments on Thursday, he acknowledged that farmers might be involved in setting fires in the region, according to Reuters news agency.

US space agency Nasa, meanwhile, has said that overall fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average compared to the past 15 years.

Brazil sends army to tackle Amazon fires

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