President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has ordered the armed forces to fight record forest fires in the Amazon, amid international outrage over rising deforestation.
President Bolsonaro deployed soldiers in nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas beset by fires.
The move is an apparent reversal from Mr Bolsonaro, who has been accused of emboldening miners and loggers.
Other countries had threatened to target Brazil’s economy if the nation did not act to stop the fires.
Large Trade Deal
France and Ireland have said they will not ratify a large trade deal with South American nations and Finland’s finance minister has called on the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports.
Mr Bolsonaro said forest fires exist in the whole world and cannot serve as a pretext for possible international sanctions.
Many of the fires are thought to have been started deliberately, with suspicion falling on farmers who may benefit by having more available land.
Mr Bolsonaro has scorned environmental activists and declared staunch support for the clearing of areas of the Amazon for agriculture and mining.
Experts and campaigners say his administration has given a green light to rainforest destruction.
Environmental groups held protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to demand action to combat the fires, and protesters gathered outside the Brazilian embassies around the world.
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.
Mr Bolsonaro confirmed that he had authorised the armed forces to help fight the fires.
“I’ve learned as a military man to love the Amazon forest and I want to help protect it,” he said.
The decree itself was fairly vague in its wording, but specified that the military would be deployed to nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas in the region.
Deployment of Soldiers
The deployment of soldiers would be left down to regional governors who can request “preventive action against environmental crimes” and ask the army to “survey and combat fire outbreaks”, it said.
Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva is to oversee the order and will be responsible for allocating resources. The order initially authorises action for a month, from 24 August to 24 September.
Mr Bolsonaro has faced deepening international criticism for his handling of the fires.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have called the fires an international crisis.
Ms Merkel called it an “acute emergency” and Mr Macron tweeted: “Our house is burning.” Both said the issue must be discussed at this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz.
Speaking in Biarritz on Saturday, European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU “stands by the EU-Mercosur agreement but it is hard to imagine a process of ratification as long as the Brazilian government allows for the destruction” of the Amazon.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said 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.”
US President Donald Trump said that he spoke to President Bolsonaro on Friday evening. “I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Brazil’s president has hit back at criticism and accused leaders such as Mr Macron of meddling for “political gain”.
Earlier this week, he even suggested that non-governmental organisations had started fires in the rainforest – despite admitting he had no evidence for this claim.