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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Brazil clears way for Amazon road
Road through the Amazon rainforest in Brazil
The government hopes a reliable road will be better for business
Brazil has given the go-ahead for a controversial road through the heart of the Amazon rainforest to be paved, angering environmentalists.

Improvements to 1,500km (950 miles) of dirt track will help get soya beans to north-east ports from central areas.

Announcing the project on World Environment Day, President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva said it would conform to the strictest environmental rules.

But activists are concerned it will speed destruction of the rainforest.

The existing road, between Cuiaba and the Amazon river port of Santarem, is an unpaved dirt track which makes it difficult to transport soya beans and other goods produced in the area, especially when it gets washed out by seasonal rains.

Agricultural produce is, instead, sent to ports in southern Brazil. It is hoped the new road will cut transport costs.

'No predators'

However, environmentalists fear paving the road will give access to the rainforest to squatters, ranchers and loggers, who will contribute to the depredation of the Amazon. They also fear cheaper costs will encourage soya bean production, with the same result.

However the government said it was establishing strict environmental controls, and had created a "sustainable forestry reserve" of 19 million hectares (47 million acres) around the road.

"This project will show how we can be Brazilian without being predators, as foreigners often say about Brazil," President Lula said during a ceremony marking World Environment Day.

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