Landless peasants protest in Brazil's capital

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Brazil's riot police and demonstrators clash during a march organized by the Rural Workers Landless Movement in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Thousands of landless workers protested in Brazil's capital on Wednesday to demand that the government hand over more unused land to impoverished farmers who have none of their own. The gathering was mostly peaceful but a few isolated clashes between demonstrators and police broke out, with officers using tear gas to disperse demonstrators. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — About 15,000 landless peasants protested Wednesday in Brazil's capital to demand land reform, swamping the government esplanade and engaging police in sharp clashes that injured at least 32 people, most of them police officers.

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun guns in an effort to disperse crowds blocking main roads and trying to invade government building.

Protesters responded by hurling rocks and chunks of wood at officers. Authorities said 30 police were injured while at least two demonstrators were reported hurt.

A group of demonstrators tried to invade the Supreme Court building, forcing the cancellation of a session of justices. The crowd also tried to approach the presidential palace, but was kept back by barricades and police.

The Landless Workers Movement, one of the globe's biggest agrarian reform movements, called the protest to demand that the government hand over more unused land to farmers who have none.

Brazil was hit by widespread anti-government protests last year, and while demonstrations have lessened in size, some remain violent.

Under Brazil's 1988 constitution, unproductive terrain may be expropriated as long as the owner is compensated. Agrarian reform remains a hot issue, with about 3.5 percent of big landowners controlling half of the farming land in one of the world's biggest agriculture powers.

Landless leaders had hoped that would change after the leftist Workers Party took power in 2003, because the party and the activist group have strong ties going back three decades. But President Dilma Rousseff has been criticized by activists, who say she's slowed the pace in giving peasants unused land.

"Dilma's government has been the worst in terms of land reform," said Alexandre Conceicao, a member of the movement's national coordination committee. "She's done nothing to help Brazil shirk off being a country with one of the most unequal distributions of land in the world."

Rousseff and her ministers have defended their work on land reform, with presidential secretary Gilberto Carvalho telling a gathering of movement leaders this week that the government is proud of its record on the issue.

But leaders of the movement said that since Rousseff took office on Jan. 1, 2011, just 4,700 families have received land from the government, which they claim is the smallest amount under a president since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985.

A cameraman was declared brain-dead in Rio de Janeiro on Monday after being hit in the head with a flare during an unrelated protest last week. Police in Rio jailed 22-year-old Caio Souza on Wednesday on suspicion of firing the flare that hit Band TV cameraman Santiago Andrade.


Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.