Brazil's Bolsonaro creates 'Amazon Council' to protect forest

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves as he arrives for the hoisting of the national flag ceremony outside the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, on January 21, 2020

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday he will create an "Amazon Council" to coordinate the protection and sustainable development of the world's largest rainforest.

Bolsonaro, who has faced a firestorm of criticism for his environmental policies since taking power in January 2019, presided over a surge in deforestation in the Amazon last year.

The council will be led by Vice President Hamilton Mourao, Bolsonaro said on Twitter.

It will be tasked with coordinating the "various actions in each ministry concerned with the protection, defense and sustainable development of the Amazon," he added.

A National Environmental Force charged with protecting the rainforest will also be established, Bolsonaro said.

The announcements come as Bolsonaro pushes for the legalization of mining and farming in indigenous territory.

A bill is expected to be sent to Congress soon. Indigenous leaders said last week the plan was tantamount to "genocide."

Deforestation in the Amazon soared 85 percent in 2019 compared with a year earlier, official figures show.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro waves as he arrives for the hoisting of the national flag ceremony outside the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, on January 21, 2020