Thousands of Brazilians have flooded social media with messages of apology addressed to Brigitte Macron after President Jair Bolsonaro insulted her appearance.
Using the hashtags DesculpaBrigitte and PardonBrigitte (meaning ‘sorry’ in Portuguese and French), voters praised French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, while calling on their own leader to apologise for his remarks.
The row erupted after Bolsonaro responded to a post on his Facebook page disparaging Mrs Macron’s looks after her husband insisted that Amazon wildfires take top billing at the G7 summit in Biarritz.
Experts have since suggested that the fires represent a ‘tipping point’ for the health of the rainforest, which is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the world’.
Gerhard Dieterle, executive director of the International Tropical Timber Organisation, warned on Wednesday that the situation in the Amazon is ‘very urgent’.
‘This is something that might affect the integrity of the Amazon as a whole, because if the forest fires spread, the grasslands become more prone to forest fires,’ Dieterle told AFP on the sidelines of a conference on African development.
‘Many experts fear it may be a tipping point’ for the rainforest, he said, as the latest figures show a total of more than 82,000 fires blazing in Brazil, even as military aircraft and troops help battle them.
More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin.
Some of the blazes are down to natural causes, Dieterle said, but they are mostly started deliberately by farmers clearing land for agriculture.
‘If tropical dense forests are affected by forest fires, they need many, many years to regroup.
‘It will alter the climate, the local climate, the national climate and the regional climate. It will also have an influence on the global climate,’ he added.
World leaders have agreed a $20million aid package to fight the blazes, but Bolsonaro has refused to take the money unless Mr Macron apologises to him.
Macron had earlier called the Brazilian leader ‘extraordinarily rude’, said his remarks were ‘sad’, suggested Brazilian women would be ‘ashamed’ of him, and added: ‘I can only hope [Brazil] soon has a president who is up to the job.’
Bolsonaro responded by saying: ‘To talk or accept anything from France, with the best possible intentions, he (Macron) has to withdraw these words, and from there we can talk.’
On Twitter, Brazilians appeared to give their backing to Mr Macron, saying that Bolsonaro’s remarks do not represent their views.
One prominent figure joining the protests was famed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho – who wrote The Alchemist – who posted a video online apologising.
‘I am sorry for the hysteria of Bolsonaro towards France, the French president and the French first lady,’ he said in French.
Donald Trump, who has sought to establish Bolsonaro as an ally and made no secret of his climate change scepticism, has thrown his backing behind the Brazilian leader.
Bolsonaro ‘is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy,’ Trump tweeted. ‘He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!’
Asked about the G7’s $20 million pledge to combat the flames, Dieterle said it was ‘a beginning but much more is needed.’
‘This is the national sovereignty of Brazil… if they ask for funding, I think the world might be willing to provide more resources,’ he said.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for President Jair Bolsonaro said Brazil would be prepared to accept foreign aid to fight the fires, provided they control the cash.
Earlier, Brazil had appeared to reject the G7 overtures during a war of words between Bolsonaro and French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the meeting of the global elite.
‘Mr Macron must withdraw the insults he made against me,’ Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital Brasilia on Tuesday.
Dieterle made his comments on the sidelines of the TICAD conference on African development held in Yokohama near Tokyo.
Earlier he warned delegates that ‘deforestation and forest degradation continue at an alarming rate in many African countries.’
Given the expected rise in African populations from 1.2 billion today to 4.4 billion by the end of the century, he also sounded the alarm bell over a lack of wood products for construction and cooking.
‘In the same way we talk about food security, we need also to talk about ‘wood security’ and ‘water security’. We must focus more on the role and use of productive forests before it is too late,’ Dieterle said.
During his election campaign, Bolsonaro made no secret of the fact that he viewed further development of the Amazon as vital to Brazil’s economic future.
On Tuesday he again criticised his country’s indigenous protection policies, which he says are used by outside forces to limit Brazil’s economy and give excessive amounts of land to tribes.
Bolsonaro made the remarks as he met with governors of states in the Amazon region to discuss the fires and listened to them complaining about indigenous reserves, saying they impede development.
Bolsonaro said that ‘many reserves are located strategically’ and said ‘someone arranged this.’
He didn’t specify what outside forces might be involved.
The president said that indigenous peoples ‘don’t speak our language, but they have managed to get 14 per cent of our national territory’ and he added, ‘One of the intentions of this is to impair us.’
Bolsonaro has repeatedly pushed for opening more indigenous lands for agriculture and mining, saying it would benefit the people living there.