Rio De Janeiro, Aug 25 (AP/UNB) — Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday were deploying in the Amazon to fight fires that have swept the region and prompted anti-government protests as well as an international outcry.
President Jair Bolsonaro also tried to temper global concern, saying that previously deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared. Even so, the fires were likely to be urgently discussed at a summit of the Group of Seven leaders in France this weekend.
Some 44,000 troops will be available for "unprecedented" operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.
The military's first mission will be carried out by 700 troops around Porto Velho, capital of Rondonia, Azevedo said. The military will use two C-130 Hercules aircraft capable of dumping up to 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of water on fires, he said.
An Associated Press journalist flying over the Porto Velho region Saturday morning reported hazy conditions and low visibility. On Friday, the reporter saw many already deforested areas that were burned, apparently by people clearing farmland, as well as a large column of smoke billowing from one fire.
The municipality of Nova Santa Helena in Brazil's Mato Grosso state was also hard-hit. Trucks were seen driving along a highway Friday as fires blazed and embers smoldered in adjacent fields.
The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro's handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.
Azevedo, the defense minister, noted U.S. President Donald Trump's offer in a tweet to help Brazil fight the fires, and said there had been no further contact on the matter.
Despite international concern, Bolsonaro told reporters on Saturday that the situation was returning to normal. He said he was "speaking to everyone" about the problem, including Trump, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and several Latin American leaders.
Bolsonaro had described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil's economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.
The Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries who believe Bolsonaro has neglected commitments to protect biodiversity. Protesters gathered outside Brazilian diplomatic missions in European and Latin American cities Friday, and demonstrators also marched in Brazil.
"The planet's lungs are on fire. Let's save them!" read a sign at a protest outside Brazil's embassy in Mexico City.
The dispute spilled into the economic arena when French leader Emmanuel Macron threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Brazil and several other South American countries.
"First we need to help Brazil and other countries put out these fires," Macron said Saturday.
The goal is to "preserve this forest that we all need because it is a treasure of our biodiversity and our climate thanks to the oxygen that it emits and thanks to the carbon it absorbs," he said.
In a weekly video message released Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Group of Seven leaders "cannot be silent" and should discuss how to help extinguish the fires.
Bolivia has also struggled to contain fires that swept through woods and fields. A U.S.-based aircraft, the B747-400 SuperTanker, is flying over devastated areas in Bolivia to help put out the blazes and protect forests.
On Saturday, several helicopters along with police, military troops, firefighters and volunteers on the ground worked to extinguish fires in Bolivia's Chiquitanía region, where the woods are dry at this time of year.
Farmers commonly set fires in this season to clear land for crops or livestock, but sometimes the blazes get out of control. The Bolivian government says 9,530 square kilometers (3680 square miles) have been burned this year.
The government of Bolivian President Evo Morales has backed the increased cultivation of crops for biofuel production, raising questions about whether the policy opened the way to increased burning.
Similarly, Bolsonaro had said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether lax enforcement of environmental regulations may have contributed to the surge in the number of fires.
Brazil's justice ministry also said federal police will deploy in fire zones to assist other state agencies and combat "illegal deforestation."
Fires are common in Brazil in the annual dry season, but they are much more widespread this year. Brazilian state experts reported nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year, up 85% over the same period in 2018.
More than half of those fires occurred in the Amazon region.
Indonesia, Aug 24 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers were searching for more than 30 people believed missing after a ferry caught fire off the coast of Indonesia's main island of Java, killing at least three people.
The vessel was carrying 277 people from Tanjung Perak port in East Java's Surabaya when it caught fire late Thursday, said Budi Prasetyo, the head of the local search and rescue agency.
About 240 people were rescued by nearby ships and boats. Three others were confirmed dead and rescuers were still searching for 34 others thought to be missing, said National Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif.
A port official, Syahrul Nugroho, said the fire broke out about 11 hours after the ferry left Surabaya headed for East Kalimantan province's Balikpapan city. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
Ferry accidents are common in Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago nation with more than 17,000 islands. Many accidents are blamed on lax regulation of boat services.
The manifest for the ferry that caught fire Thursday showed that only 111 people were registered as passengers, along with 44 crewmembers, Prasetyo said.
Chicago, Aug 24 (AP/UNB) — Health officials said Friday that an Illinois patient who contracted a serious lung disease after vaping has died and that they consider it the first death in the United States linked to the smoking alternative that has become popular with teens and young adults.
The Illinois Department of Public Health the adult patient was hospitalized after falling ill following vaping, though it didn't give other information about the person, including the patient's name, age, hometown or date of death.
The state received the report of the death Thursday, said Dr. Jennifer Layden, the Illinois agency's chief medical officer.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that 193 people in 22 states have contracted severe respiratory illnesses after vaping. However, they said a clear-cut common cause of the illnesses hasn't been identified and that they are being called "potential cases" that are still under investigation.
All of the sickened have been teens or adults who had used an electronic cigarette or some other kind of vaping device. Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. So far, infectious diseases have been ruled out.
The illnesses have been reported since late June, but the total count has risen quickly in the past week. That may be partly because cases that weren't initially being linked to vaping have begun to be grouped that way.
Among the newest reports are two in Connecticut, four in Iowa and six in Ohio. Health officials are asking doctors and hospitals to tell state health officials about any possible vaping-related lung disease cases they encounter.
In its news release, the Illinois agency said the number of people who contracted a respiratory illness after vaping had doubled in the past week, to 22.
"The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous," IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in the release.
Electronic cigarettes have been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health officials have been worried about kids using them. Most of the concern has focused on nicotine, which health officials say is harmful to developing brains and might make kids more likely to take up cigarettes.
But some vaping products have been found to contain other potentially harmful substances, including flavoring chemicals and oils used for vaping marijuana, experts say.
A number of the people who got sick had vaped products containing THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana. CDC officials said they do not have a breakdown of how many of the sick people vaped THC.
The American Vaping Association, an advocacy group, issued a statement arguing that "tainted, black market THC products" are to blame. The group called on federal officials to clear nicotine vaping products of suspicion.
Matthew Myers, the head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the illnesses underscore why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be looking into e-cigarettes and their impact on health before they can be sold to the public.
Health officials said they need to gather more information.
"Investigators haven't identified any specific product or compound that is linked to all of the cases," Ileana Arias, a CDC official who oversees non-infectious disease, said during a Friday call with reporters. She also said the sickened might be dealing with different illnesses that have similar symptoms.
Washington, Aug 24 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump angrily escalated his trade fight with China on Friday, raising retaliatory tariffs and ordering American companies to consider alternatives to doing business there.
He also blamed Jerome Powell, the man he appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve, for the state of the domestic economy, wondering who was a "bigger enemy" of the U.S. — Powell or Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Even by the turbulent standards of the Trump presidency, his actions, all done via Twitter, were notable, sending markets sharply lower and adding to a sense of uncertainty on the eve of his trip to France for a meeting of global economic powers.
Trump's move came after Beijing announced Friday morning that it had raised taxes on U.S. products. He huddled with advisers, firing off tweets that attacked China and the Fed. And he mockingly attributed a Wall Street drop of 573 points to the withdrawal of a marginal candidate from the Democratic presidential race. The Dow Jones average eventually closed down 623 points.
The president attacked the Fed for not lowering rates at an informal gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where no such action was under consideration. Powell, speaking to central bankers, gave vague assurances that the Fed would act to sustain the nation's economic expansion, but noted that the central bank had limited tools to deal with damage from the trade dispute.
Trump said he would be raising planned tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese goods from 10% to 15%. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also said existing tariffs on another $250 billion in Chinese imports would go from 25% to 30% on Oct. 1 after receiving feedback from the public.
Late Friday night, Trump told reporters at the White House: "I have no choice. We're not going to lose close to a trillion dollars a year to China."
He insisted: "Tariffs are working out very well for us. People don't understand that yet."
The impact could be sweeping for consumers.
"With each percentage point added to the tariff hikes, it becomes more and more difficult for importers not to pass the costs on to the U.S. consumer," said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator now at the Asia Society Policy Institute. "And this is not to mention the uncertainty that these increases contribute to the overall business environment."
Trump acted hours after Beijing said it would hike tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. imports, a move some economists fear could tip a fragile global economy into recession.
The president appeared caught off-guard by China's tariff increase, and was angry when he gathered with his trade team in the Oval Office before departing for France, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose closed-door conversations.
Administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and adviser Peter Navarro, discussed potential retaliatory options. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, returning from vacation, joined by phone.
Earlier Friday, the president said he "hereby ordered" U.S. companies to seek alternatives to doing business in China. The White House did not cite what authority the president could use to force private businesses to change their practices.
Trump's latest escalation will impose a burden on many American households. Even before he announced an increase Friday, J.P. Morgan had estimated that Trump's tariffs would cost the average household roughly $1,000 a year if he proceeded with his threats.
Businesses large and small joined in a chorus of opposition to the intensifying hostilities.
"It's impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment," said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation. "The administration's approach clearly isn't working, and the answer isn't more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?"
If Trump goes ahead with all the tariffs he's announced, they would cover just about everything China ships to the United States.
China, for its part, slapped new tariffs of 5% and 10% on $75 billion of U.S. products in retaliation. Like Trump's, the Chinese tariffs will be imposed in two batches — first on Sept. 1 and then on Dec. 15.
China will also go ahead with previously postponed import duties on U.S.-made autos and auto parts, the Finance Ministry announced.
Trump tweets Friday included one declaring, "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing ... your companies HOME and making your products in the USA."
French, at the National Retail Federation, said it was "unrealistic for American retailers to move out of the world's second largest economy. ... Our presence in China allows us to reach Chinese customers and develop overseas markets."
Jay Foreman, CEO of Basic Fun!, a Florida toy company that imports from China, said Trump's demand to American companies was outrageous.
It was an "unprecedented statement for a president to make to private business when there is no national security issue involved," he said.
The 13-month-long feud between the U.S. and China has been rattling financial markets, disrupting international trade and weakening prospects for worldwide economic growth.
Washington accuses China of using predatory tactics - including outright theft of U.S. trade secrets - in an aggressive drive to turn itself into a world leader in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and electric cars.
Twelve rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse, though more negotiations are expected next month. Chinese leaders have offered to alter details of their policies but are resisting any deal that would require them to give up their aspirations to become a technological powerhouse.
The two countries are also deadlocked over how to enforce any agreement.
China's announced tariff hikes — and Trump's response — are the latest signs that both countries are digging in.
"China is signaling yet again that it has no intention of backing off from the trade war, further reducing the likelihood of the U.S. and China agreeing on any sort of trade deal in the coming months," said Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad, former head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund.
Tariff increases on Sept. 1 apply to 1,700 items ranging from frozen sweet corn, dried beef and pork liver to marble, other building materials and bicycle tires, according to the Chinese Finance Ministry.
Penalties that take effect Dec. 15 cover 3,300 items including coffee, cinnamon, industrial chemicals and scissors, the ministry said.
Most of the goods are being hit for a second time, possibly reflecting Beijing's reluctance to hurt its own economy by extending penalties to imports needed by its own industries, according Mark Williams of Capital Economics. He said only $11 billion of the $75 billion of goods on the Chinese lists are being hit with penalties for the first time.
Williams noted aircraft and integrated circuits — an important input for Chinese industry — still are exempt from retaliation.
That reflects "a desire to limit the damage that tariffs on U.S. goods could do to its own economy," said Williams in a report.
The Chinese said tariffs of 25% and 5% would be imposed on U.S.-made autos and auto parts on Dec. 15. Beijing had planned those tariff hikes last year but temporarily dropped them to keep the talks going.
BMW, Tesla, Ford and Mercedes-Benz are likely to be the hardest hit by the Chinese auto tariffs. In 2018, BMW exported about 87,000 luxury SUVs to China from a plant near Spartanburg, S.C. It exports more vehicles to China than any other U.S. auto plant.
Together, Ford, BMW, Mercedes and others exported about 164,000 vehicles to China from the U.S. in 2018, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Most of them are luxury cars and SUVs with higher profit margins that can cover higher U.S. wages. The exports are down from about 262,000 in 2017.
Tesla, which is building a plant in China, last year got about 12% of its revenue by exporting about 14,300 electric cars and SUVs from California to China, according to Barclays. Most of Ford's exports are from the Lincoln luxury brand, but most of the vehicles it sells in China are made in joint-venture factories.
Washington, Aug 24(AP/UNB) — The "chosen one" says never mind.
President Donald Trump raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he glanced heavenward and referred to himself as "the chosen one" to take on China.
He took the comment back Friday.
When a reporter asked Trump what he had meant by referring to himself as the "chosen one," the president looked annoyed.
"You know exactly when I meant," Trump said. "It was sarcasm. It was joking. We were all smiling. And a question like that is just fake news."
The president spoke as he was departing the White House for his trip to the Group of Seven summit in France.