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France Privatization Pushes Ahead

October 23, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ France’s Socialist government said Thursday it would complete the sale of Usinor SA, Europe’s biggest steel producer, pressing ahead with another privatization plan it had criticized before winning the June elections.

The state will sell its remaining 7.7 percent stake in Usinor, Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn announced in a statement Thursday.

The news came a day after the government said it will begin selling shares in Air France to employees and the airline’s partner companies, a move seen as the first step toward privatization.

The government has also gone ahead with the partial sale of France Telecom after criticizing conservatives in June for advocating sale of the phone company.

The government is under pressure to liberalize its economy and sell state-owned companies as the European Union deregulates its economy. France also needs to cut its support of state companies and raise money to cut its budget deficit to qualify for Europe’s single currency planned for 1999.

Strauss-Kahn said Thursday that plans for the first sale of shares in Air France will take place in the middle of next year.

He wouldn’t say what percentage stake would be sold when asked if it might be as much as 49 percent of the airline. He expects the company to achieve ``healthy profitability levels″ by next year.

Meanwhile, investors will get a first look at a prospectus for the sale of the government’s stake in Union Europeene de CIC, the banking arm of state-owned insurer Groupe Gan, at the end of November.

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