Landless movement stages protest to demand land reform

Thousands of activists of Brazil's Landless Movement (MST) staged nationwide protests Wednesday to demand agrarian reform as they marked the anniversary of the killings of 19 farmers.

The 17th-anniversary demonstrations, in which roads were blocked, were held in the states including Sao Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Ceara, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas and Rio de Janeiro as well as in Brasilia, MST said.

"Thousands of people demonstrated peacefully. We have no reports of clashes, although in some areas roads were blocked and official buildings were occupied," a spokesman told AFP.

In the federal capital, Brasilia, police said 500 protesters marched past ministries to press the government to speed up land deliveries.

The MST, seen as the best organized social movement in Brazil, campaigns for land reform and the rights of landless workers.

The protesters commemorated the April 17, 1996, killing of 19 farmers in a clash with police in the town of Eldorado dos Carajas, in the northern state of Para.

State military police officers were accused of opening fire on activists who were clamoring for land. Two officials were sentenced for the massacre.

Since then, the MST has stepped up its mobilization and occupations of farms, demanding agrarian reform that guarantees access to land for millions of families.

MST is pressing President Dilma Rousseff's government to find a solution for 150,000 families which it says live in camps.

Land feuds with wealthy ranchers are frequent in Brazil where one percent of the population controls 46 percent of the cultivated land.