Venezuelan authorities have begun moving residents out of the Tower of David, a skyscraper notorious as a haven for squatters and gangs in the capital, Caracas.

More than 100 families have been relocated from the unfinished 45-storey building, the start of an operation by military authorities to clear a longtime symbol of festering poverty and lawlessness in the heart of the Venezuelan capital.

As we all know, this is a structure that does not have the minimum conditions for a life that is safe and lived with dignity

Ernesto Villegas, the minister for revolutionary transformation

The Tower of David, which was remade into a forbidding warren of makeshift shelters with armed guards - and has been called the world's tallest shantytown, has been home to about 3,000 people.

On Tuesday morning, several dozen residents were seen exiting the building with their belongings, and boarding government vehicles to be taken to new homes outside the city.

Ernesto Villegas, the minister for revolutionary transformation, stated that the relocation of the building's residents was "not an eviction." "It's a coordinated operation, in harmony with the community in the tower."

"Today we have begun with floors seven, nine and twenty-eight," he said, adding that those leaving were being voluntarily resettled in government housing in Ciudad Zamora, outside Caracas.

"As we all know, this is a structure that does not have the minimum conditions for a life that is safe and lived with dignity," said Villegas.

Communal organisation

The building's construction was halted in 1993 after a financial crisis and the death of its owner, investor David Brillembourg. It was taken over in 2007 by gangs and homeless people during the governance of the late President Hugo Chavez.

Its inhabitants created a communal organisation to maintain order within the building, taking turns keeping floors polished and common areas clean and secure.

It was unclear why the government has decided to clear the building seven years after it was taken over.

Source: Agencies