AFP/Reuters/Porto Velho, Brazil/Biarritz, France
Brazil on Sunday deployed two C-130 Hercules aircraft to douse fires devouring parts of the Amazon rainforest, as hundreds of new blazes were ignited ahead of nationwide protests over the destruction.
Heavy smoke covered the city of Porto Velho in the northwestern state of Rondonia where the defense ministry said the planes have started dumping thousands of liters of water, amid a global uproar over the worst fires in years.
Swathes of the remote region bordering Bolivia have been scorched by the blazes, sending thick smoke billowing into the sky and increasing air pollution across the world's largest rainforest, which is seen as crucial to mitigating climate change.
Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the problem this year.
"It gets worse every year -- this year, the smoke has been really serious," Deliana Amorim, 46, told AFP in Porto Velho where half a million people live.
At least seven states, including Rondonia, have requested the army's help in the Amazon, where more than 43,000 troops are based and available to combat fires, officials said.
Dozens of firefighters are en route to Porto Velho to help put out the blazes. Justice Minister Sergio Moro has also given the green light for the deployment of security forces to tackle illegal deforestation in the region.
The fires have triggered a global outcry and are a major topic of concern at the G7 meeting in Biarritz in southern France.
The fires threaten to torpedo a huge trade agreement between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil, that took 20 years to negotiate.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday the leaders of the world's major industrialised nations were close to an agreement on how to help fight the Amazon forest fires and try to repair the devastation.
"There’s a real convergence to say: 'let's all agree to help those countries hit by these fires'," he told reporters in Biarritz, which is hosting the annual summit of leaders from the Group of Seven nations.
He said the G7 countries comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Canada, were finalising a possible deal on "technical and financial help".
Macron shunted the Amazon fires to the top of the summit agenda after declaring them a global emergency, and kicked off discussions about the disaster at a welcome dinner for fellow leaders on Saturday.
An EU official, who declined to be named, said the G7 leaders had agreed to do everything they could to help tackle the fires, giving Macron a mandate to contact all the countries in the Amazon region to see what was needed.
"It was the easiest part of the talks," the official said.
A record number of fires are ravaging the rainforest, many of them in Brazil, drawing international concern because of the Amazon's importance to the global environment.
Macron last week accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's government of not doing enough to protect the area and of lying about its environmental commitments.
Macron said on Sunday world powers needed to be ready to help with reforestation, but acknowledged there were different views over this aspect, without going into details.
"There are several sensitivities which were raised around the table because all of that also depends on the Amazon countries," he said, adding that the world's biggest rainforest was vital to the future of the planet.
"While respecting sovereignty, we must have a goal of reforestation and we must help each country to develop economically," he said.
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