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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Lula warns Brazil land activists
Squatters on vacant lots of land in Sao Paulo on Monday
As Lula spoke, squatters invaded vacant land in Sao Paulo
The Brazilian president has urged land activists to behave "responsibly" amid a wave of land invasions in April.

Speaking on his twice-monthly radio show, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said agrarian reform should be carried out lawfully and as peacefully as possible.

Frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of change, activists have invaded dozens of properties this month, which they have dubbed "Red April".

On Monday, hundreds of squatters were evicted from buildings in Sao Paulo.

Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to eject the squatters, who had occupied vacant buildings in the city centre before dawn, the Associated Press news agency reported.

However, hundreds more people remain inside a property on the city's outskirts, it said.

Farm invaded

On Sunday, about 420 families invaded a farm belonging to Klabin, one of Brazil's biggest paper companies.

The members of the Landless Workers Movement - known by its Portuguese initials MST - allegedly cut down native forest and pine plantations.

"Don't lose your sense of responsibility," Lula cautioned activists in his Breakfast with the President show.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
The rules apply to the president, those without land, and those with land
Lula
He said land activists had to act within the law.

"[Agrarian reform] will be done in the calmest, most peaceful way, because the landless understand that this country has laws, has rules.

"And those apply to the president, they apply to those without land, and they apply to those with land," he said.

Lula said the government aims to settle 430,000 families and grant 130,000 land titles by the end of 2006.

Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues later warned that the recent invasions threatened to frighten off rural investors.

He also warned the remaining squatters in Sao Paulo they had no choice but to move from the occupied properties.

"The bottom line is either they get out, or they get out," he warned.

But the squatters hit back, telling AP news agency they had no choice.

"These occupations wouldn't be necessary if the government did more to help us find places to live," Roque Cuello said.

Aggressive tactics

Correspondents say Lula is trying to counter aggressive new tactics employed by land activists.

Not only have invasions surged, but land owned by multinational companies and in use has also now been targeted.

They say Brazil has some of the most unequal land distribution rates in the world, a problem which Lula has promised to address.

And with more than a million members, the MST is also a force to be reckoned with.

But scarce resources to pay for land redistribution, and fierce lobbying by landowners, means the government is prepared to proceed with reform at a much slower rate than that demanded by land activists, observers add.


SEE ALSO:
Brazil's land wars hit new height
17 Apr 04  |  Americas
Brazil landless step up seizures
11 Apr 04  |  Americas
Brazil moves to halt farm clashes
29 Jan 04  |  Americas


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