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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Venezuela to speed up land reform
President Chavez (right) with a representative of Brazil's Landless Movement
Hugo Chavez (r) met members of Brazil's Landless Movement
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has vowed to accelerate his controversial programme of land redistribution.

Broadcasting his weekly Sunday TV programme from a recently-seized farm, Mr Chavez called on ranch owners to negotiate with the government.

"We are not carrying out expropriation, this belongs to the nation, to the state," he said at the Marquesena farm.

Mr Chavez's opponents have argued that plans for land reform violate property rights enshrined in the constitution.

'No claim'

Under President Chavez's administration, new laws have been passed to allow the state to seize underused ranches without compensation.

The 8,490-hectare (20,978-acre) Marquesena ranch is one of about 20 so far claimed by Venezuela's left-wing government.

Mr Chavez said the family who had run the farm for decades had no legal claim to it.

But he said he was willing to offer the Azpurua family 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of the ranch. The rest, the president said, would be used to establish a state farming co-operative.

"We can't stop with the Marquesena, we have to accelerate all of this," said Mr Chavez, who was accompanied by members of Brazil's Landless Movement.

"I extend my hand to the supposed landowners to find a constructive solution," he added.

Mr Chavez has said he aims to reclaim 500,000 hectares (1,235,000 acres) of farm land this year.

Landowners have said they will challenge the land reform programme in the courts.

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