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Brazil's Bolsonaro defends environmental record in speech to U.N.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is seen during a pre-recorded address to the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly in Brasilia, Brazil, September 16, 2020. Marcos Correa/Brazilian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS reuters_tickers
This content was published on September 22, 2020 - 16:19

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro rejected international criticism on Tuesday of his government's environmental policies and his handling of the world's second-most deadly coronavirus outbreak after the United States.

In a pre-recorded speech to a remote session opening the United Nations General Assembly, the far-right leader, who has repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the virus, lamented the more than 137,200 COVID-19 deaths in Brazil.

The Amazon rainforest is experiencing its worst rash of fires in 10 years, while the Pantanal wetlands, the world's largest, has the most blazes ever recorded.

Environmental advocates blame Bolsonaro for emboldening illegal ranchers and land speculators who set fire to land to increase its value for agricultural use.

The president rebutted the accusations and said Brazilian agriculture feeds one billion people in the world, and that the country has the best environmental legislation.

"And yet we are the victims of one of the most brutal campaign of misinformation about the Amazon and the Pantanal," he said, without specifying what information was false.

Bolsonaro said it was difficult for Brazil to fight the Amazon fires and illegal logging in an area bigger than Western Europe, but was trying to do so with the help of the military.

His government has said criticism of its environmental policies are just a cover for protectionism in Europe, where farmers see Brazil as a competitor and businesses have threatened to boycott Brazilian products.

Bolsonaro said his government is still committed to concluding a free trade agreement between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur.

He blamed the media for "politicizing" the pandemic and causing panic among Brazilians by telling them to stay home, leading to "social chaos" while his government "boldly" took emergency economic measures to avoid a deeper crisis.

Environmental activists protested against Bolsonaro outside the U.N. headquarters on Monday. They carried banners that read "Brazil in flames" and "No forest, No future" to call attention to the destruction of the rainforest that scientists see as vital to curbing climate change.

Bolsonaro said his government was open to adopting fifth generation telecom technology "from any partners that respect our sovereignty and cherish freedom and the protection of data."

That could appear to rule out Huawei, as Brazil debates whether to follow the advice of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to avoid buying 5G equipment from the Chinese company due to security concerns.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Bill Berkrot)

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