Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has accused non-governmental organisations of setting wildfires in the Amazon rainforest to damage his government's image after he cut their funding.

Mr Bolsonaro, who has shocked environmentalists with plans to open the Amazon to business interests, said NGOs could be behind the record number of wildfires this year, although he presented no evidence to back up his claim.

He said "everything indicates" that NGOs are going to the Amazon to "set fire" to the forest.

When asked if he had evidence to back up his claims, he said he had "no written plan," adding "that's not how it's done",

Mr Bolsonaro said the slashing of NGO funding by his government could be a motive for them burning down the forest as they seek to bring his government into disrepute.

"Crime exists," he said during a Facebook Live broadcast. "These people are missing the money."

Mr Bolsonaro's latest comments enraged environmentalists, who are increasingly concerned by his administration's attitudes toward the world's largest rainforest, a vital bulwark against climate change.

Brazil is home to more than half of the Amazon.

"This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement," said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil's public policy coordinator.

"Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy."

Mr Bolsonaro, a long-time sceptic of environmental concerns, wants to open the Amazon to more agriculture and mining.

He has told other countries worried about rising deforestation since he took office to mind their own business.


Read more: Five things to know about the Amazon


Congressman Nilto Tatto, leader of the lower house environment caucus, said Mr Bolsonaro's "stunning" attack on the NGOs was a smoke screen to hide his dismantling of Brazil's environmental protections built up over 30 years.

Mr Bolsonaro said the administration is working to control fires currently raging in the Amazon rainforest, which have reached a record number this year.

Brazil's space research centre, INPE, has detected 72,843 fires so far in 2019.

When asked about the spread of uncontrolled fires, Bolsonaro has brushed off criticism, saying it is the time of the year of the "queimada" or burn, when farmers use fire to clear land.

"I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada," he told reporters.

Former presidential candidate and environment minister Marina Silva took to Twitter to criticise Mr Bolsonaro.

"The Amazon is on fire," she wrote.

"The president says NGOs may be behind this. The lack of commitment to the truth is a chronic pathology. This irresponsible attitude only aggravates an environmental disaster in Brazil."

Speaking later, Mr Bolsonaro also took aim at the Paris climate accord, saying that if it were so good, the US would have stayed in it. But he added that for the time being, Brazil would remain in the pact.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned in June he would not sign the EU-Mercosur trade treaty if Mr Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of the Paris accord.

Earlier this month, Norway and Germany suspended funding for projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after becoming alarmed by rising deforestation under Mr Bolsonaro.