UPDATE 1-Slovakia says close to deal to keep U.S. Steel plant

Mon Mar 25, 2013 12:44pm EDT

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PRAGUE, March 25 (Reuters) - Slovakia is close to an agreement with U.S. Steel under which the company will keep ownership of its plant in Kosice, a major employer in eastern Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Monday.

Fico said after talks with U.S. Steel's leadership in Pittsburgh that talks may be concluded in the coming days.

"We are on the right path," Fico said in a statement.

"Experts must finalise some details in the coming hours. If they manage that, we can bring good news to employees and their families this week or perhaps already tomorrow."

He did not say what the Slovak government had offered the U.S. firm to reconsider its plan to sell the Slovak operation, which employs some 11,000 people, more than any other company in the central European country.

In the past, the government said it was looking at ways to lower the plant's costs in the energy, environmental and transport areas.

The Kosice plant, in the country's east where unemployment is the highest, is an important supplier for the Slovak car industry, a major source of economic growth.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, has managed to recover quickly from a 2009 recession, but has suffered from high unemployment. The official jobless rate stood at 14.7 percent in February.

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