ArcelorMittal executives held in Belgian protest freed

Wed Oct 5, 2011 6:11am EDT

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By Silvia Antonioli and Robert-Jan Bartunek

LONDON/BRUSSELS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Six ArcelorMittal executives have been freed after being held against their will for 48 hours by Belgian workers protesting against the steelmaker's closure of two blast furnaces near Liege, the company said.

The world's largest steelmaker in June announced a temporary production stoppage during the fourth quarter at its Liege plant in Belgium.

"It's just ended," said Etienne Botton, head of ArcelorMittal Liege communications department, who was one of the executives held, told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We have been held for two days, one day with no food allowed by the unions."

About 200 people had gathered outside the offices and made it impossible for the management to leave the building.

Fabrice Jacquemart, spokesperson of the FGTB union, confirmed that his union had held six members of ArcelorMittal's management.

"There were no physical problems, there was no brawl, people were held in a dignified way," he said on Wednesday.

Jacquemart said that negotiations over the future of ArcelorMittal's site near Liege were deadlocked.

"What we were going to tell the management is negotiations are not moving forward, so you are not going to get out of here until they move forward. We decided to make our point firmly and neatly," he said.

The strikes continued, halting steel production at Arcelormittal Liege, a spokeswoman for the steelmaker said.

"We hope the unions will be ready to proceed with social dialogue through the appropriate channels," ArcelorMittal said in a statement.

The Luxembourg-based group told investors last month that it would weather a possible new recession better than in 2008/2009 because of savings made to date, a healthier balance sheet and its expansion into mining.

Other European producers are also cutting capacity, after producing at high levels in the first half this year, as weaker demand, prices and destocking hit their sales.

In 2010, ArcelorMittal produced 92,629,000 tonnes of steel, of which 37 percent was produced in Western Europe and 11 percent in Central and Eastern Europe. (Reporting by Silvia Antonioli; editing by Anthony Barker)

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