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Brazil arrests 63, levies $8.7 million in fines over fires

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this aerial view, the red dust of the BR230 highway, known as "Transamazonica", is seen mixing with fires in the agriculture town of Ruropolis, Para State, northern Brazil, at sunset on September 6, 2019. (By AFP)

Brazil's defense minister says 63 people have been arrested and issues fines amounting to $8.7 million after the military was sent to fight raging fires in the Amazon rainforest.

The announcement came as President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, where he said he would "reaffirm the sovereignty" of Brazil after the surge in blazes sparked international outcry.

Amid the criticism, Bolsonaro in August authorized the deployment of the military to the Amazon in an operation that was extended to October 24.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva told a press conference that the military made 571 land and 250 air raids to combat the fires in the rainforest, a major absorber of carbon dioxide that's home to one of Earth's most concentrated and extensive collections of biological diversity.

Based on research from the country's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil in August recorded 30,901 fires in the Amazon region, almost triple the 10,421 recorded in the same month in 2018, Azevedo said.

The minister emphasized that the number of fires recorded so far this month in the rainforest was 17,095, well below the historical average for September of 33,426, while acknowledging that concerns remained over fires burning in certain areas, specifically the center of the forest.

"What was coming, mainly from the outside, was that the Amazon was on fire. We showed the reality, and I think it is far from a burning Amazon," the minister said, speaking alongside a technical team that participated in the operation.

As the number of fires grew in Amazon, Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has prioritized business over environmental and indigenous preservation, faced criticism within Brazil and abroad.

The Brazilian president hit back, accusing France and Germany of "buying" Brazil's sovereignty after the G7 group of rich democracies offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid.

(Source: AFP)

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