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Venezuela econ min threatens Orinoco oil takeover

Venezuela's new economy minister warned on Thursday the OPEC nation could "nationalize" the multibillion dollar heavy crude projects in the Orinoco oil belt run by U.S. and European companies if talks for the state to take a majority stake in the enterprises break down.

The projects are worth an estimated $33 billion and believed to hold up to 235 billion barrels of tar-like oil.

On Monday, as President Hugo Chavez broadened his nationalization drive to the utilities sector, he also reinforced his offensive against companies developing the oil of the Orinoco Belt in eastern Venezuela, saying their projects had to become state property.

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