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Chavez takes more land from UK firm

Venezuela's president has ordered the seizure of 716,590 acres belonging to a British-owned company amid a disagreement over compensation for earlier takeovers of ranchland from the firm.

President Hugo Chavez announced the latest seizure after saying that Venezuela refused to pay compensation in foreign currency to Agropecuaria Flora, a local subsidiary of the British company Vestey Group.

Mr Chavez said the government had received a demand from the company that it be paid in dollars for the previous seizure of tens of thousands of acres. But the government insists in paying in bolivars, Venezuela's currency.

It is difficult for foreign companies operating in Venezuela to repatriate profits and other income in bolivars because of foreign currency controls in the South American country.

Representatives of Agropecuaria Flora did not answer calls seeking comment.

Venezuela's expropriation of farm and ranch lands began in earnest in 2005, with the government employing a 2001 law allowing it to seize lands deemed idle or not adequately used.

Some landowners have negotiated compensation, while others have mounted legal challenges with mixed results.

The government has also seized some ranches for which it alleges the owners did not hold legal title in the first place.

Owners of large farms and cattle ranches have criticised the takeovers, arguing that Mr Chavez's socialist-inspired policies have failed to boost agricultural production and made Venezuela increasingly dependent on imports of food from countries such as Brazil and Argentina.

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