Page last updated at 22:28 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 23:28 UK

Venezuela seizes US pasta company

Venezuela's Deputy Food Minister Rafael Coronado leads a group of officials and soldiers towards the pasta plant in Catia la Mar on the outskirts of Caracas
Last March President Chavez nationalised Cargill's rice plant

Venezuelan officials accompanied by soldiers have seized "temporary" control of a US-owned pasta producer.

Venezuela says the plant, owned by the big US firm Cargill, had violated regulations on price controls intended to guarantee cheap food for the poor.

The move further increases President Hugo Chavez's hold on the economy, after a series of recent take-overs of private and foreign-owned businesses.

They include a Cargill rice plant, and services companies in the oil industry.

Deputy Food Minister Rafael Coronado said the government would run the factory for 90 days, and would reassess the situation after that.

He said it has not been producing sufficient quantities of a type of pasta sold at cheap, government-established prices.

Price control

A rice mill owned by Cargill was taken over earlier this year, on the grounds that it was not producing rice at government-set prices.

Cargill had said it did not break the government's pricing rules on rice because the mill did not produce the plain rice which is regulated.

Venezuela has set quotas and prices for 12 basic foods including rice, powdered milk, cheese and tomato sauce.

Under the measure, 80% of all rice produced must be basic white rice. The measure also includes 95% of all cooking oil, coffee and sugar.

Last week Mr Chavez sent troops to take over oil service companies including hundreds of supply boats, and two American owned gas facilities.

He nationalised Venezuela's oil reserves, one of the largest in the Americas, two years ago.

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