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  • Thousands of campesinos marched in the center of Asuncion on Wednesday.

    Thousands of campesinos marched in the center of Asuncion on Wednesday. | Photo: EFE

Sit-in continues in front of the National Congress and campaigners say it will not end until the country's president agrees to meet them.

Thousands of landless workers have been marching through the streets of the Paraguayan capital Asuncion to demand the cancellation of debts contracted with the national bank.

They intend to file their claim on Thursday in the national Senate.

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Earlier the Paraguayan Agriculture Minister Juan Carlos Baruja told a news conference that the debts will not be annulled as requested by the strike's organizers, the umbrella National Inter-Sector Coordination, CNI, group.

The demonstrators have been blocking the center of the capital since Monday, setting up their camp in front of the National Congress.

The landless workers say they will indefinitely prolong their protest until President Horacio Cartes agrees to hold face to face talks with them.

They claim the government has not fulfilled its promise to cancel their debts with the national bank, as agreed in a deal reached in April 2016 after a 23-day strike.

Baruja denied this and said more than 12,000 campesinos have benefited from loans renewed with the bank.

The campesinos are also calling for increased public subsidies allocated to family farms via a "social emergency bill" and a faster process to legalize the transfer of deed titles.

The CNI leader Luis Aguayo has condemned what he calls the “complete failure of the policies implemented for the sector," as illustrated by “the rise of poverty and extreme poverty in rural areas.”

Aguayo and other workers' leaders met the former President Fernando Lugo, who is now leading the Congress, to ask him to highlight their concerns as he promised he would last week.

The CNI includes the Coordination of Campesinas Organizations, the National Organization of Sugar Cane Producers, the Indigenous campesinos of Ñane Mba'e and the Agrarian and Popular Movement.

Land ownership has long formed the basis for bloody disputes in Paraguay, where the state often acts in the interests of the elite; 2.6 percent of landowners hold 85.5 percent of Paraguay’s lands while 91.4 percent of campesinos — with properties smaller than 20 hectares — hold only 6 percent of the agricultural land, according to the 2008 agriculture census.

Agribusiness involved in the export of soy has been criticized as the main factor for the nation's unequal land distribution.

Soy cultivation also requires the heavy use of pesticides and genetically-modified organisms, said to be linked to many cases of lethal intoxication among campesinos' families.

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