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France says does not rule out privatising arms firm Nexter

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ROANNE, FRANCE (AFP): France has not ruled out privatising the arms manufacturer Nexter, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet has said, as electronics giant Thales prepared to take a stake in the firm.

Nexter -- which produces tanks, artillery and ammunition for the French army and for export -- turned over USD 1.45 billion in 2010 and is eyeing major contracts to provide mobile howitzers to India and Malaysia.

The firm was born out of military contractor Giat Industries, but is now a state-controlled civilian body.

Longuet has previously said that Thales will take a 10 to 20-percent stake, and seek to boost ammunition exports.

Trade unions representing Nexter workers have accused the government of seeking to privatise the firm by stealth. On Thursday, Longuet said that, while this is not yet on the agenda, it has not been ruled out.

"The state has the firm intention to remain boss of this business right now, this instant. But, for all that, is the situation set in stone? No," he said, during a tour of the Nexter plant in Roanne, in central France.

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