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UPDATE 2-Merkel backs Magna's Opel bid, aims to resolve issues

* Merkel aims to clear up Magna/Opel issues in coming days

* Merkel, Medvedev working together on Nord Stream

* Govt consultations yield range of deals

(Adds quotes, background)

By Oleg Shchedrov and Madeline Chambers

OBERSCHLEISSHEIM, Germany, July 16 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for Magna's MGa.TO, bid for carmaker Opel on Thursday and said her government aimed to clear up outstanding questions in the next few days.

She told reporters after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the two were working together on Opel's future and that Canadian supplier Magna's MGa.TO bid, backed by Russian lender Sberbank SBER03.MM, had benefits.

“There are still a number of questions to be cleared up. But the Magna concept offers excellent starting points,” said Merkel at a joint news conference with Medvedev.

“It offers Opel a chance and also creates the possibility of establishing a strategic partnership in the car sector with Russia,” she said.

“That’s why we are doing all we can to resolve the remaining questions in the next few days and we are counting on Magna to do its bit,” she added.

The race for Opel, a European unit of General Motors GMGMQ.PK, is heating up. While Magna is in talks about taking a stake, other contenders have also emerged, including Belgium-based industrial investment company RHJ International RHJI.BR and Chinese carmaker Beijing Automotive (BAIC). [ID:nLG253161]

Earlier, several sources familiar with the situation said earlier BAIC had lost ground to rivals Magna and RHJ.

“The intensity of the Chinese has diminished somewhat. Negotiations with them clearly lack focus at the moment,” one person said.

While BAIC has not officially withdrawn from the race, RHJ and Magna are expected to submit binding contracts in just a matter of days and a decision could come shortly afterwards.

Medvedev, who backs the Magna-Sberbank plans, said he hoped the deal would come to fruition.

“We are looking at the project with interest and optimism. We will try to make progress in realising it,” he said.

PIPELINE SUPPORT

Merkel also offered support to Medvedev over the ambitious Nord Stream subsea gas pipeline project.

The Nord Stream consortium aims to bring 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Germany and further to other European Union countries each year across the Baltic seabed from 2011.

But the timetable looks uncertain as some states are worried the pipeline may damage the environment, especially as it would pass close to dumped munitions from World War One and Two.

Permits to build and operate the pipeline are needed from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

“We will do everything we can to get the approvals that are needed,” said Merkel, adding that progress had been made with Finland, but the consortium was still waiting for Sweden.

Medvedev called on Sweden to clear the project, arguing it could contribute to European energy security.

“This is a very important project,” said Medvedev, adding Russia wanted to ensure energy supply was safe and diversified.

For a factbox on the deals, click on [ID:nLG153670] (Additional reporting by Frankfurt bureau)

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