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Venezuelan troops take over U.S. glass plants

Venezuela sent troops to two plants owned by U.S. bottle maker Owens Illinois Tuesday after President Hugo Chavez ordered nationalization of the company's operations on charges of environmental crimes and exploiting workers.
/ Source: Reuters

Venezuela sent troops to two plants owned by U.S. bottle maker Owens Illinois Tuesday after President Hugo Chavez ordered nationalization of the company's operations on charges of environmental crimes and exploiting workers.

Owens Illinois stockfell nearly 6 percent after the socialist leader's televised address Monday night in which he expropriated the plants.

"There are military personnel on the scene at each of the plants," said Owens Illinois spokeswoman Stephanie Johnston.

She said the soldiers were outside and operations had been unaffected.

The company said on its website, www.o-i.com, that it was "surprised to learn of the decision, and we are prepared to work with government officials to better understand the situation." Owens Illinois has operated in Venezuela for more than 50 years and employs more than 1,000.

It said Venezuela represents less than 5 percent of its global segment operating profit.

During 11 years in power, Chavez has brought a large part of the economy under government control, including major oil installations owned by foreign companies. Venezuela is South America's leading oil exporter.

He has ordered nationalization of companies linked to food and beverage production since last month's elections reduced his party's majority in parliament.

Many Venezuelans believe the recent takeovers are intended to pressure Empresas Polar SA, Venezuela's top private employer and largest brewer and food processor. Polar uses Owens Illinois' bottles for beer and beverages. Chavez has long threatened to nationalize Polar.

Chavez warned Monday that he had "another little list" of companies to be nationalized, but he gave no details.

Companies recently taken over by Venezuela's government include Fertinitro, a major fertilizer plant owned by U.S. company Koch Industries, Italy's Eni and Polar.

Grain storage company Agroislena has been nationalized, and Chavez announced the purchase of 500,000 acres of land belonging to Britain's Vestey Group.

Owen Illinois, based in Perrysburg, Ohio, was founded in 1903. It describes itself as the world's largest glass container maker, with 22,000 workers in 21 countries.

The company's stock was down 5.6 percent at $27.96 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange.