Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 00:15 UK

Venezuela to seize cement plants

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Cement production is the latest target of Mr Chavez's nationalisation drive

Venezuela has said it will seize local plants and offices belonging to Mexican cement giant Cemex, as it proceeds with nationalising its cement industry.

Cemex's Swiss and French rivals Lafarge and Holcim have agreed to hand control of their local subsidiaries to Caracas.

However, a deal with Mexico's Cemex "hasn't been possible", said Venezuelan Vice-President Ramon Carrizalez.

Venezuela has begun nationalising several industries as part of a drive toward "21st-Century socialism".

Mr Carrizalez said that Venezuela had acquired 89% of Lafarge's Venezuelan operations for $267m and paid $552m for 85% of Holcim's local unit.

The two firms have signed agreements setting out the process for transferring shares to the government.

Mr Carrizalez said Cemex had asked for $1.3bn for its Venezuelan operations.

A spokeswoman for Lafarge earlier said that the company was working to protect the interests of shareholders and staff based in the country.

'Excessive profits'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused foreign cement firms of demanding excessive profits and selling their cement overseas.

Taking them over, he said, would allow his government to make faster progress with plans to end a massive housing shortage.

"We're going to lower the costs of cement, the costs for building housing," he said in a televised address on Monday.

Banking and telecommunications industries are also set to be taken over by the state.

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