PORTO VELHO, Brazil – Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday, August 27, he was open to discussing G7 aid for fighting fires in the Amazon if his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron "withdraws insults" made against him.
Bolsonaro's remarks come amid an escalating war of words with Macron over the worst fires in years that have sparked a global outcry and threatened to torpedo a huge trade deal between the European Union and South American countries.
Hours earlier, a top Brazilian official had rejected the G7 countries' offer of $20 million to combat the fires devastating the forest in Brazil and Bolivia, saying Macron should take care of "his home and his colonies."
"Mr Macron must withdraw the insults he made against me," Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital Brasilia.
"To talk or accept anything from France, with the best possible intentions, he has to withdraw these words, and from there we can talk," Bolsonaro said.
Macron on Monday, August 26, condemned "extraordinarily rude" comments made about his wife Brigitte by Bolsonaro a day earlier.
Bolsonaro hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like "a colony or no-man's land."
The latest official figures show 1,659 new fires were started in Brazil between Sunday, August 25, and Monday, taking the total this year to 82,285 – the highest since at least 2013 – even as military aircraft and troops help battle the blazes.
More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.
In the hard-hit northwestern state of Rondonia, thick smoke has choked the capital Porto Velho in recent days as fires blacken swaths of the rainforest.
Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva on Monday claimed that the fires were "under control."
"It has been exaggerated a little that the situation was out of control – it wasn't," he said. "The situation isn't simple but it is under control."
Although about 60% of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of 8 other countries or territories, including the French overseas territory of Guiana on the continent's northeast coast.
Bolsonaro – a climate-change skeptic – has faced criticism at home over his delayed response to the fires and thousands have protested in Brazil in recent days to denounce the destruction.
Bestselling Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, meanwhile, took to the internet to apologize – in French – for Bolsonaro's behavior.
"This is a rather sad video to ask forgiveness of my French friends for the crisis – I would even say the hysteria of Bolsonaro regarding France, the French president, the French president's wife," he said in a message posted on Twitter.
"As Amazonia burns, they have no argument except to insult, deny, say anything to avoid taking responsibility," he added. – Rappler.com