Lula (L) throws his weight
behind landless farmers
Vans and buses flying the red flag of the Landless Rural Workers Movement, or MST, streamed out of the farm, 40 km west of Lula's palace.

   

"Lula said there was going to be agricultural reform and this has encouraged government organizations to take action," said MST lawyer Elmano Freitas.

 

The lawyer said activists were leaving the farm with a promise from Brazil's land reform agency that they would be given some of the land as it was public property.

 

The owner of the 1,950-acre farm invaded by the MST said the law was on his side.

   

"They've been thrown out because this is private property," said Mario Zinato, who gathered more than 100 farm hands to protect his land, saying he had guns for them.

   

Lula, Brazil's first working-class president, this week donned an MST baseball cap as he met with leaders of the radical movement and promised to speed up reforms and raise funds to redistribute land to Brazil's poor.

   

His aides described the 19-year-old MST, which is inspired by the Mexican and Cuban revolutions, as a legitimate and necessary force in Brazil's agrarian reform.

 

Accusation

 

Rural Development Minister Miguel Rossetto said the government would not tolerate landowners who sought to increase the level of violence in the countryside and show total irresponsibility, referring to the recruitment of private gunmen to safeguard farmlands.

       

Opposition politicians accused Lula and his left-wing government of siding with the MST, which occupies land it believes should be given to the poor, to the detriment of landowners.    

   

The showdown on Lula's doorstep came as his newly elected government moved to quell a nationwide wave of MST looting, blockades and invasions and calm a growing climate of rural confrontation between peasant activists and landowners.

 

The previous centre-right government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso had tried to prevent MST invasions and stop its members taking land they had occupied.