France’s first lady, Brigitte Macron, hit back on Thursday at mockery of her age and appearance on Jair Bolsonaro’s Facebook page amid a war of words between the Brazilian president and her husband that has left £18m in emergency funding for the Amazon in limbo.
Her comments came as Mr Bolsonaro, accused by critics of allowing tens of thousands of fires to rage unchecked in the Amazon rainforest, announced a two-month ban on fires deliberately started by farmers.
Critics have accused the Brazilian president of allowing farmers to start fires in order to clear forest for crops or grazing.
Mrs Macron, 65, did not mention Mr Bolsonaro by name, but implied that the 64-year-old president was out of tune with contemporary attitudes to women.
Mrs Macron thanked the thousands of Brazilians who had offered apologies on social media for their president’s approval of a post deriding her for being nearly 25 years older than her husband, Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
The post implied that Michelle Bolsonaro, the 37-year-old wife of Mr Bolsonaro, 64, was better looking than the French first lady.
Mrs Macron said: “Times are changing. There are those who are on the train of change, women are there with you, like you, you’ve almost all understood, gentlemen. Not everyone, some are still on the platform and I’m sure they will soon get on the train.”
Her comments won sustained applause as she inaugurated a newly refurbished museum devoted to the Battle of Agincourt at a ceremony with the British ambassador, Edward Llewellyn, at the site of the 1415 English victory over the French in northern France.
“It’s not just for me, it’s for all women,” Mrs Macron said. “Things are changing and everyone must realise it.”
The diplomatic clash between the French and Brazilian presidents came as Mr Macron tried to lead international efforts to help Brazil put out the fires, which he sees as a global problem because the world’s largest rainforest produces 20 per cent of its oxygen.
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Mr Bolsonaro, whose critics have labelled him “Captain Chainsaw” because of what they say is his disregard for the environment, rejected £18 million in aid from the G7 announced at a summit hosted by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, in the coastal resort of Biarritz at the weekend.
But he has accepted a separate £10m offer of assistance from the United Kingdom. State governors and agribusiness leaders from the Amazon region have implored Mr Bolsonaro to accept financial aid from the G7, fearing that continued tensions could harm Brazil’s exports.
Under domestic and international pressure, the government is expected to launch a series of environment-related measures next week including curbs on deforestation and gold panning. Local media have warned of a new Amazon gold rush stemming from relaxed oversight and poverty.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump lent his support to Mr Bolsonaro. “I have gotten to know [Mr Bolsonaro] very well during our dealings with Brazil”, Mr Trump tweeted.
“He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil.” Mr Bolsonaro thanked him, saying that the “fake news campaign built against [Brazilian] sovereignty will not work.”