Nun's killing prompts Brazil to establish rainforest reserves

Brazil's president has ordered the creation of a huge Amazon rainforest protection area less than a week after an American nun who was trying to protect the area and its inhabitants was gunned down.

Brazil's president has ordered the creation of a huge Amazon rainforest protection area less than a week after an American nun who was trying to protect the area and its inhabitants was gunned down.

Decrees that were signed on Thursday by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will initiate a reserve of 8.2 million acres (445,000ha) and a national park spanning 1.1 million acres in the eastern Amazon state of Para, where Dorothy Stang, 73, was shot to death after a dispute with a rancher.

A new national forest and conservation areas totalling 3.5 million acres were also created in three other states in the Amazon. In all, the land placed under federal environmental protection covers 19,900 square miles.

"We can't give in to people committing acts of violence," said the Environment Minister, Marina Silva, who announced the decrees in the capital, Brasilia. "The government is putting the brakes on in front of the predators."

The decrees were announced after more than 60 groups signed a letter to the President demanding strong moves to curb "violence and impunity associated with the illegal occupation of lands and deforestation" in the Amazon, especially in vast Para state.

Unless he took action, Mr da Silva would "risk making history as the champion of rural violence, illegal occupation of public lands and illegal logging," said the letter, signed by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other groups.

"It is sad to see that things had been in the pipeline for months and years needed a tragic development in order to receive priority," said Roberto Smeraldi, the director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Brazil.

Logging companies and landowners intent on profiting from cattle and soy beans have steadily pushed deeper into the world's largest rainforest, which sprawls over 1.6 million square miles, covering more than half of Brazil. Development, logging and farming have destroyed as much as 20 per cent of the rainforest.

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