Brazil tribal women protest Bolsonaro's 'genocidal policies'

Brazilian indigenous women march in Brasilia to demand that the government protect the Amazon rainforest (AFP Photo/EVARISTO SA)

Brasília (AFP) - Thousands of tribal women decorated with feathers and body paint marched on Brazil's capital Tuesday denouncing the "genocidal policies" of President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces growing criticism over destruction of the Amazon.

Far-right Bolsonaro wants to develop the rainforest -- seen as vital to combatting climate change -- by allowing more mining and farming in the region.

The latest official figures show a sharp increase in deforestation in recent months compared with a year earlier. Activists blame the rise on Bolsonaro's anti-environment rhetoric.

But Bolsonaro has dismissed the data as lies and sacked the head of the government agency tasked with tracking tree clearing.

Carrying bows, arrows and spears, the indigenous women advanced on Congress in Brasilia carrying a large banner that said "Resist to exist" as they demanded greater protection of their land.

"Bolsonaro wants to wipe out our lands, our ethnicities," Potira Guajajara, a 22-year-old student from the northeastern state of Maranhao, told AFP.

"There have been many invasions of our lands by hunters and gold miners."

Brazil's government has demarcated hundreds of territories since the 1980s for the exclusive use of its 800,000 indigenous inhabitants. Access by outsiders is strictly regulated.

Bolsonaro opposes demarcating more land, claiming indigenous people already live "like a zoo animal."

Elected last year with support from the powerful agriculture lobby, Bolsonaro has pledged to combat illegal deforestation.

While the government admits clearing has increased, it insists it is not as great as indicated by the National Institute for Space Research.