Mob attacks offices over Brazil logging crackdown

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A mob of about 3,000 people attacked government offices to protest a crackdown on illegal Amazon logging, the government said on Monday, prompting the environment minister to call for federal troops.

The protests began on Sunday evening in the town of Paragominas in northern Para state after environment officials seized about 400 cubic meters (14,000 cubic feet) of illegally cut wood, the environmental agency Ibama said on its Web site.

The protesters opened fire on a garage where vehicles belonging to the environment agency were parked, stole trucks with confiscated logs and tried to invade a hotel where government agents were staying, Ibama said.

Environment Minister Carlos Minc said the government would not back down from efforts to enforce rules aimed at preventing illegal logging that has destroyed swathes of the world’s largest rain forest.

“On the contrary, we will intensify our actions and punish those responsible. We won’t be intimidated,” he said.

Minc said he had asked the Justice Ministry to send troops from Brazil’s National Security Force to beef up security in the town, which is close to the city of Tailandia where riots against an illegal logging crackdown broke out in February.

The area, one of Brazil’s most violent, is at the heart of an intense dispute in the Amazon over land and natural resources that is often settled by hired gunmen.

The crackdown by federal agents in Tailandia, about 180 km (112 miles) south of state capital Belem, marked the start of Operation “Arc of Fire” aimed at reversing alarming signs of a surge in the rate of deforestation after three straight years of falls.

Despite the stepped-up federal efforts to curb logging, official figures expected to be released by the end of the year are expected to show the deforestation rate rose.

Environmentalists blame cattle ranchers and farmers for pushing deeper into the rain forest in search of cheap land after it has been cleared by loggers.

Reporting by Stuart Grudgings, editing by Patricia Zengerle