G7 leaders vow to help Brazil fight fires, repair damage

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the summit leaders were nearing an agreement on how to support Brazil and said the agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms "so that we can help them in the most effective way possible."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country and others will talk with Brazil about reforestation in the Amazon once fires there have been extinguished.

"Of course (this is) Brazilian territory, but we have a question here of the rainforests that is really a global question," she said. "The lung of our whole Earth is affected, and so we must find common solutions."

Pope Francis also added his voice to the chorus of concern over the fires in Brazil, which borders his homeland of Argentina, and urged people to pray so that "they are controlled as quickly as possible." He told a crowd in St. Peter's Square that "we're all worried" about the Amazon fires. He warned that that green "lung of forest is vital for our planet."

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted that he had talked by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israel would send a specialized plane to help in the firefighting operation.

On Friday, the president announced 44,000 soldiers would be sent to help battle the fires that are scattered across Brazil's's share of the vast Amazon, an overall region 10 times the size of Texas that is seen as a global bulwark against climate change. Only a few hundred troops had been sent so far.

The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year — with more than half of those coming this month alone. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland. But the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well.

Brazil's federal police agency announced Sunday it would investigate reports that farmers in the state of Para, one of those most affected by the blazes, had called for "a day of fire" to ignite fires Aug. 10.

Local news media said the group organized over WhatsApp to show support for Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen environmental regulations.

Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversees the police, said on Twitter that Bolsonaro "asked for a rigorous investigation" and said "the criminal fires will be severely punished."

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Fire tears through Amazon rainforest
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Fire tears through Amazon rainforest
A tract of Amazon jungle is seen burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A tract of Amazon jungle is seen burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers near the city of Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil September 23, 2013. Picture taken September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A man works in a burning tract of Amazon jungle as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
An tract of Amazon jungle burning as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
A charred trunk is seen on a tract of Amazon jungle that was recently burned by loggers and farmers in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
Charred trees stand as a forest fire sweeps through the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Cattle stand near a wooded area smoldering in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters walk across charred land to another area as they work to put out fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest in the Vila Nova Samuel region, near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Cattle stand in the field as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they are preparing to help Brazil battle fires burning across the Amazon region and repair the damage as tens of thousands of soldiers got ready to join the fight against blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Moacir Cordeiro, who works in a local cattle farm, looks on after digging grooves with a tractor in an attempt to keep the flames from spreading to the pasture, as a fire burns an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. "The problem is that the fire is everywhere. Every place you look there are spot of fire and burn", says the 55-year-old worker. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Fire consumes an area in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
An area smolders in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. The country's satellite monitoring agency has recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year, with more than half of those coming in August alone. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Embers from a wildfire smolder along BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Experts from the country's satellite monitoring agency say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland, but the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
The sun sets amid smoke from forest fires that is leaving behind charred trees in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Fire consumes a field along the BR 070 highway near Cuiaba, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Mario Lobao)
Firefighters work to put out forest fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, in the Vila Nova Samuel region, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters work to put out forest fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest near the city of Porto Velho in Rondonia state, in the Vila Nova Samuel region, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Firefighters work to put out fires in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near to the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A line of fire fighting vehicles advance through smoke from forest fires in the Vila Nova Samuel region, along the road to the National Forest of Jacunda, near to the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. Leaders of the Group of Seven nations said Sunday they were preparing to help Brazil fight the fires burning across the Amazon rainforest and repair the damage even as tens of thousands of soldiers were being deployed to fight the blazes that have caused global alarm. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees burn in a wildfire in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
A fire burns in highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees burn during a fire in the highway margins in the city of Porto Velho, Rondonia state, part of Brazil's Amazon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Trees are destroyed after a fire in the Alvorada da Amazonia region, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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People demonstrated in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities Sunday demanding Bolsonaro's administration do more to protect the Amazon. One boy in Rio held up a poster saying "Bol$onaro is burning our future," while people chanted: "Bolsonaro out! Amazon stays!"

Critics have accused Bolsonaro's pro-development policies of encouraging farmers and ranchers to increase efforts to strip away the forest, though the president has issued repeated pledges recently to protect the area, and backed that up by sending in soldiers and other federal forces.

Merkel noted that Bolsonaro is putting "significant forces" into the effort to save the rainforest.

But Bolsonaro has had a tense relationship with foreign governments — including Germany's — and non-governmental groups that he accuses of meddling in his country's management of the Amazon. He last week floated the idea, without evidence, that non-governmental groups were setting fires to embarrass him.

Macron's office on Friday complained that the Brazilian leader "had lied to him" about environmental commitments.

Asked if he would speak with Macron, Bolsonaro said Saturday, "If he calls me, I will answer. I am being extremely well-mannered with him even though he called me 'a liar.'"

Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Sunday he would welcome aid in fighting his own country's wildfires, which have scorched about 3,475 square miles (900,000 hectares). Most of the damage has been in the forests of the Chiquitanía region over the past two weeks, but fires also have burned in Bolivia's Amazon region. Morales said at a news conference that he had accepted offers of assistance from the leaders of Spain, Chile and Paraguay.

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