France's Pre-Vote Sell-Offs

France's Socialist-led government is stirring controversy with privatizations on the eve of a presidential election. Taking advantage of favorable market conditions, the government sold an 11% stake in Renault on Apr. 2, reducing its holding in the formerly state-controlled carmaker to about 25%. A week earlier, it floated a 49% stake in the country's biggest toll-road operator, Autoroutes du Sud de la France. Labor unions denounced the sell-offs, and with presidential voting set to begin on Apr. 21, many observers were surprised that Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin would risk alienating supporters during his neck-and-neck race to unseat President Jacques Chirac. Still, the deals generated nearly $2.9 billion, sorely needed to shore up the state pension system and trim rising budget deficits. EDITED BY Edited by Rose Brady

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