Brazil’s president has accused France and other countries of interfering and having a “colonialist mindset” as they express fears for the burning Amazon rainforest.
The number of forest fires in Brazil since January – more than 74,000 – has increased by 83% compared with the same period last year, with smoke that is visible from 400 miles up in space.
World leaders are increasingly worried about the situation, as the Amazon – described as the world’s lungs – is a vital absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the fires are an “international crisis”, writing on Twitter: “Our house is burning. Literally.
“The Amazon rainforest – the lungs which produce 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire”.
But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro hit back, saying: “I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem.”
In a second tweet, he said: “The French president’s suggestion that Amazonian matters be discussed at the G7 without the involvement of countries of the region recalls the colonialist mindset that is unacceptable in the 21st century.”
Mr Bolsonaro also claimed news organisations had exploited the fires to undermine his government, saying: “Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela.”
Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said: “Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires.”
The Bishops Conference for Latin America described the fires as a “tragedy”, saying: “We urge the governments of the Amazon countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the world’s lungs.”
But Filipe Martins, an adviser to Mr Bolsonaro, said the Amazon would be saved by Brazil and not “the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs”.
Fires in the rainforest at this time of year are not unusual, but environmentalists blame the increase on farmers deliberately setting fires to clear land for agriculture.
On Thursday, Mr Bolsonaro admitted this could be the case – a day after he had blamed environmental groups for setting the fires.
Just eight months into his presidency, the right-wing president has made it clear he wants to open the Amazon up to the demands of mining, agricultural and logging companies.
Federal prosecutors are investigating a Brazilian newspaper advert calling on farmers to be part of Fire Day and burn parts of the forest to show the president “their willingness to work”.
This month, Norway and Germany stopped funding anti-deforestation projects in Brazil, worried by changes to how the projects were being chosen under Mr Bolsonaro.
At the time the president said his country “does not need” the funding.