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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 06:59 GMT
Brazilian landless strike back
Police arrest landless protesters at the president's family's farm
The protesters hit back after the weekend arrests
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By the BBC's Tom Gibb in Sao Paolo

Peasants from Brazil's landless movement (MST) have taken over the farm of a business associate of the country's president in Sao Paulo state.

They say the action is in retaliation for the controversial arrest of 16 members of their organisation who led an occupation of the president's family farm at the weekend.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Cardoso is being challenged again

They also say they are planning many more such actions in the coming months.

The front pages of Brazil's main newspapers carried pictures of the 16 lying face down in the dirt outside the president's family farm with their hands tied behind their backs.

A line of heavily armed police stood over them.

They have been detained and may well be prosecuted for leading a mass takeover of President Fernando Enrique Cardoso's farm at the weekend, despite promises from the government's ombudsman on land issues that there would be no arrests if the MST left the farm peacefully.

The ombudsman has since offered his resignation, saying his word was broken.

But the government says he had no jurisdiction to make such promises in the first place.

More takeovers imminent

Within 24 hours, 150 members of the MST had invaded another farm - this time of a business associate of the president in Sao Paulo state.

The leader of the occupiers says the action is in retaliation for the 16 arrests.

MST leaders have been saying they plan a wave of land takeovers during the next month.

They say occupying unproductive farms is the only way to push the government to carry out land reform in Brazil, where 20% of the population own 90% of farmland.

The government says it has already given land to half a million families in the last eight years - a figure disputed by the MST who say far fewer families have benefited.

See also:

04 May 00 | Americas
Analysis: Fight for land in Brazil
24 Mar 02 | Americas
Brazil troops sent to occupied farm
05 May 00 | Americas
Brazil gets tough on land squatters
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