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Rome agrees on Alitalia sale to consortium

The Italian government has decided to put an end to the Alitalia takeover saga by giving the go-ahead on the airline company's sale to a consortium of Italian investors for one billion euros. The group plans to cut some 3,250 jobs.

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Italy's government said Wednesday it had given the go-ahead for the failing national flag-carrier Alitalia to be sold to a group of investors for around one billion euros (1.25 billion dollars).

The minister for economic development Claudio Scajola authorised the special administrator in charge of Alitalia, Augusto Fantozzi, "to proceed with selling the assets ... at a price no less than 1.052 billion euros," a government statement said.

The assets will be sold to the Italian Air Company (CAI), an investor group set up in an emergency move in August to relaunch the national airline, which was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The approval Wednesday cleared the final stage in a drawn-out rescue process for Alitalia after EU authorities last week cleared the takeover while ruling that CAI would not have to repay a state loan judged to be illegal.

The airline, 49.9 percent owned by the Italian state, still seeks a foreign partner to take a minority stake in the relaunched firm.

The Radiocor news agency reported earlier Wednesday that Alitalia had delayed a decision on a foreign partner until the end of the year.

CAI could not be reached for comment on the report.

The decision -- likely between the Anglo-Dutch giant Air France-KLM or Germany's Lufthansa -- had been expected in the coming days.

However, remarks in favour of Lufthansa by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during a visit to Italy by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday caused the postponement, Radiocor said, quoting sources close to CAI.

Berlusconi said that Rome and Berlin viewed potential cooperation between Alitalia and Lufthansa "very favourably" and that the German airline presented "numerous advantages" for Milan's Malpensa airport.

Berlusconi, who himself hails from Milan, won April elections in coalition with the regional Northern League party, which is lobbying for Alitalia to partner Lufthansa.

The prime minister's remarks came as CAI was about to announce its preference for Air France-KLM, news reports said.

Ahead of the April polls, Berlusconi notably opposed an offer for the Italian government's 49.9 percent stake from Air France, saying he wanted the airline to stay in Italian hands.

The revamped Alitalia is due to take off on December 1.

CAI is to retain 12,500 Alitalia workers while cutting some 3,250 jobs.

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