Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has denied accusing environmental groups of starting fires in the Amazon rainforest, saying he was merely airing his suspicions when he spoke previously on the issue.
It comes after satellite images showed a record number of burning spots in the forest this year.
Mr Bolsonaro had suggested, without citing any evidence, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could be starting the wildfires to make him look bad.
“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these [NGO people] are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” the leader previously said in a video posted to his Facebook account.
“This is the war we are facing.”
However, speaking soon after during a live broadcast on Facebook, Mr Bolsonaro said he never claimed NGOs were starting fires, saying he was talking only of his suspicions.
He also said his government was investigating the extensive wildfires but added that it lacked the resources to fight the destruction.
The comments come after environment minister Ricardo Salles was booed as he took the stage at a UN workshop on climate change in the northern state of Bahia on Wednesday.
Some audience members at the event – which Mr Salles tried to cancel earlier this year – shouted and waved placards emblazoned with the words “stop ecocide” and “the Amazon is burning”.
The minister spoke briefly at the workshop and said climate change needed to be addressed.
Pressure has been growing on the Brazilian government after the country’s official monitoring agency reported a sharp increase in Amazon wildfires this year.
The National Institute for Space Research said the country had seen a record number of wildfires this year, counting 74,155 as of Tuesday. It marks an 84% increase compared to the same period in 2018.
The states worst affected this year are Mato Grosso, Para and Amazonas, which fall within the Amazon region. The wildfires account for 41.7% of all fires.
Mr Bolsonaro, who once threatened to leave the Paris climate accord, has previously attacked environmental groups, which have been seen as obstacles in the leader’s quest to develop the country’s full economic potential, even in protected areas.
He and Mr Salles have been calling for more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, which they consider to be over-protected by current laws.
On Thursday, the Brazilian president tweeted a thread by presidential adviser Filipe G Martins, who said “there’s a reason why Brazil has the best environmental credentials and the best preserved forests in the word (sic): we know how to protect and take care of what is ours”.
Mr Martins adds that “Brazil is the most successful country in the world in preserving the primeval forests within its borders” and that “our environmental legislation is also one of the most stringent in the world”.
“If you are wondering who is going to save the Amazon, here’s a very straightforward answer for you: it’s not the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs, but the sovereign action of Brazil,” he concludes.