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French U-turn on SNCM privatisation plans

French U-turn on SNCM privatisation plans
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Seamen who hijacked a French vessel in protest at plans to privatise the national ferry company have been given a hero’s welcome as they arrived home in Corsica. After 10 days of strikes which have severely disrupted passenger transport across the Mediterranean, the French government has backed away from fully privatising the loss-making SNCM. The firm, which serves routes to Corsica, Sardinia, Algeria and Tunisia, has accumulated debts exceeding 150 million euros.

Following talks with the main CGT trade union which supports the strikers, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Thursday that the state was prepared to keep a minority stake of around 25 percent in the firm. “My aim is to save this company, it is my responsibility to find a final solution to this dramatic situation,” said the prime minister. In a spectacular operation broadcast on French television, helicopter-borne commandos recaptured the vessel on Wednesday, a day after it was hijacked by around 50 striking ferry workers. Most of them were allowed to disembark when the ship landed in the port of Toulon. Four remain in police custody. There have also been violent scenes on the streets of Bastia in Corsica as demonstrations ran out of control. Sea traffic remains severely disrupted in the port of Marseille and all activity has ground to a halt in Corsica.