German Hapag-Lloyd workers march against NOL takeover

BERLIN, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Nearly 300 workers from German shipping group Hapag-Lloyd protested on Tuesday against a possible takeover by Singapore’s NOL a day before the cabinet is due to pass a law to shield domestic firms from foreign buyers.

Singapore's Neptune Orient Lines NEPS.SI and a group of Hamburg investors are on the short list to buy Hapag-Lloyd, the world's fifth largest container shipping group and a unit of Germany's TUI TUIGn.DE, Europe's biggest travel firm.

If NOL is successful, the deal would create the world’s third-largest container carrier.

But the offer by NOL, 66 percent owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings [TEM.UL], has caused concern in Germany, not least about possible job cuts, and the government has welcomed the Hamburg bid to keep the firm in German hands.

Close to 300 Hapag-Lloyd employees marched outside the Singapore Embassy in Berlin, blowing whistles, ringing bells and waving banners saying “Hands Off Singapore!” and “Save Our Jobs!”, a company spokeswoman said.

It is one of several instances recently of foreign firms or funds either taking stakes in or showing interest in German firms which have sparked concern about foreign influence in strategic sectors.

In response, ministries have drawn up new rules to allow the government to review and even veto purchases by foreign investors of stakes in domestic firms of 25 percent or more if national security is at stake.

Economists have warned, however, that any signs the government of the world’s biggest exporter of goods is taking a protectionist turn could frighten off foreign buyers.

Other cases which have caused concern in Germany include the purchase by Taiwanese group BenQ 2352.TW of a mobile phone business from Siemens SIEGn.DE which a year later went bankrupt with the loss of 3,000 German jobs.

Germany has also made clear to Russia that it should not try to boost its stake in European aerospace group EADS EAD.PA after state-controlled Russian bank VEB bought a roughly 5 percent stake.

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Writing by Madeline Chambers; editing by Rory Channing