Brazil activists occupy government office demanding farmland

September 5, 2016 1:10 PM EDT

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By Chris Arsenault

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of protesters have occupied a government office in Brazil's capital demanding farmland for 120,000 landless families and other reforms, one of the country's biggest land rights movements said on Monday.

Dubbing their protest the "cries of the excluded", Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement (MST) and other farmers' groups occupied the office of the Planning Ministry in central Brasilia, the MST said in a statement.

"The demand is for the immediate settlement of more than 120,000 families (living) in encampments throughout the country," the MST said in a statement, referring to informal rural squats dotted across Brazil.

The Planning Ministry did not respond to calls requesting comment and did not issue a statement or posts on Twitter on Monday.

Nearly five million families across South America's largest country are landless, according a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.

One percent of Brazil's population owns about 45 percent of the country's land, the study said.

Brazil's government says it is working to improve land distribution but conflicting claims over different pieces of land and unclear titles in rural areas have slowed the process.

Protesters also called for more technical support for farmers and a halt to plans by Brazil's newly installed government to lift limits on foreigners owning farmland.

"The indiscriminate sale of land to foreigners threatens our national sovereignty," the MST said.

Officials in Brazil's new government say land sales will help kick-start economic growth in the recession-hit economy.

Michel Temer, a conservative lawyer, was sworn in as Brazil's president last week following the impeachment of former president Dilma Rouseff, who was seen as an MST ally.

Demonstrations against Temer's government, including the MST's office occupation, have hit several Brazilian cities in recent days.

Temer dismissed protesters as "small groups" who are "not representative" of Brazil's 204 million people.

(Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit

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