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Venezuela to Nationalize Country's Largest Steelmaker

The Venezuelan government says it plans to nationalize the country's largest steelmaker, bringing one more key industry under state control in its drive toward a socialist economy.

President Hugo Chavez's government said Wednesday that it will take control of steelmaker Ternium Sidor to protect workers' rights. Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizales said the action was taken after the breakdown of talks between the Argentine-controlled company and its union workers regarding salaries and benefits.

The decision follows Venezuela's announced it will take majority control of three foreign cement businesses operating there, but allow the current owners to keep a minority share.

Mr. Chavez said that takeover is needed to ensure businesses produce cement to build homes in Venezuela, which is facing a housing shortage.

The order affects Mexican-owned Cemex, which produces half of Venezuela's cement. Also affected are Switzerland's Holcim and France's Lafarge companies. Mexico has said the nationalization is inappropriate.

President Chavez has moved to increase state control over other industries as well. In recent months, he has reasserted national control over Venezuela's oil, electricity and telecommunications industries.

Venezuela is currently involved in a dispute with U.S.-based ExxonMobil over the nationalization of an oil project in which the company had a large financial stake.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.