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Bolsonaro launches privatization drive with airports sale

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's government launched his privatization drive Friday, selling off 12 regional airports in a first test of his market-friendly agenda.

Though the boost to state coffers from the initial auction was relatively small at 2.3 billion reals ($620 million), the selloff is seen as a first test of market confidence in Bolsonaro's huge privatization program.

"It's a great demonstration of confidence in the country," Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas said.

The airports -- sold in three separate lots -- were snapped up by Spanish airport giant Aena, Flughafen Zurich of Switzerland and a Brazilian consortium, Aeroeste.

Brazil is to complete the privatization of 42 airports between 2020 and 2022, including those at Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The airports auctioned Friday represent 9.5 percent of the domestic market.

Six airports in northeastern Brazil were bought by Aena, four in the center-west went to Zurich, and two in the southeast to Brazilian consortium Aeroeste.

Aena's successful tender included the auction's biggest prize, tourist-magnet Recife airport, a destination seen as having the biggest potential because of its relative proximity to Europe.

Bolsonaro's conservative predecessor Michel Temer initiated a program of privatization but Bolsonaro has made it a central plank of his policy to reduce soaring public debt and regain investor confidence.

Nine groups competed at the auction organized by the National Agency for Civil Aviation and the Sao Paulo stock exchange.

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