September 19, 2019
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Brazilian protesters: "Burn Bolsonaro, Not the Amazon"

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- The chant "Burn Bolsonaro, Not the Amazon," rang out Friday in at least a dozen Brazilian cities as thousands poured into the streets to protest what they see as President Jair Bolsonaro's inaction in the face of wildfires that are devastating the Amazon region.

Demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia, among other cities, demanded decisive action to protect the world's largest tropical rainforest and denounces the far-right president, whose initial reaction to the blazes was to blame them on environmentalists.

Non-governmental organizations that oppose his environmental policies are the "biggest suspects," Bolsonaro said, offering no evidence to support the accusation.

Environmental and other NGOs, meanwhile, say they fear that settlers and agri-business interests out to expand their holdings may be setting the fires in response to Bolsonaro's "anti-environmental" policies.

The president, who took office in January, has moved to roll back environmental protections and to dismantle barriers to development in indigenous reserves.

The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared with this time last year.

The INPE said in a report released Tuesday that 52.5 percent of the 71,497 fires registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 were in the Amazon region.

While drought is a factor, experts say that accelerating deforestation is the main driver behind the spike in wildfires.

Friday saw mobilizations around the world to express concern about the Amazon fires.

Protesters gathered outside the Brazilian embassies in several Latin American countries, including Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela.

"The people heard the call of the Amazon. The Amazon cried out for its life and the world paid attention," environmental activist Thiago Avila told Efe at Friday's demonstration in Brasilia.

"Everybody came out, 166 protests in 140 cities in 30 countries said: the Amazon stays, Bolsonaro goes. It's been a long time since we've heard a cry like this in unison in so many places," he said.

More important, perhaps, is the criticism coming from world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who has threatened to veto a prospective European Union trade deal with Mercosur - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - if the Brazilian government does not live up to its commitments to protect the Amazon. EFE

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