President Hugo Chavez on Thursday ordered the nationalization of iron companies that include Japanese capital, part of a drive to build a socialist state in the OPEC nation.

Chavez, who has already nationalized many of Venezuela's largest industries, named iron briquette makers with Japanese investors among the companies to pass into state hands.

Nationalize the iron briquette sector, there is nothing to discuss, Chavez said to euphoric union members during a televised speech in which he also announced a wage rise for thousands of workers and a cut in management salaries.

Iron companies Comsigua, Orinoco Iron, Matesi are affected by the announcement along with the local unit of transnational Tenaris (TENA.BA: Quote)(TS.N: Quote)(TENR.MI: Quote) steel pipes for the oil industry.

More than 60 percent of Comsigua is owned by Japanese companies Kobe Steel Ltd (5406.T: Quote), Marubeni Corp (8002.T: Quote), Sojitz Corp (2768.T: Quote) and Mitsui & Co (8031.T: Quote), and much of the region's iron production is sold to the United States.

We've just heard about the nationalization plan and hope to gain more information, said Gary Tsuchida, a spokesman at Kobe Steel, the top shareholder.

Together the Venezuelan companies produce millions of tonnes of iron annually. Iron briquettes are used in the production of steel.

Several of the companies named on Thursday have long been plagued by labor disputes.

A close ally of Cuba, Chavez has gradually reduced the private sector in Venezuela, taking over major oil, electricity and cement projects in a two-year drive that also includes Venezuela's main steel plant, Sidor.

In recent weeks, he has moved against smaller oil service companies and U.S. food giant Cargill's local operations. (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Caracas; Additional reporting by Yuko Inoue in Tokyo; Editing by Peter Cooney and Ben Tan)

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