May 1, 2009 / 9:47 PM / 11 years ago

Sonatel share sale to France Telecom abandoned

* Senegal abandons Sonatel share sale to France Telecom

* Proposed sale sparked opposition, labeled colonial

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR, May 1 (Reuters) - Senegal has abandoned a planned share sale that would have handed majority ownership of state telecoms company Sonatel SNT.CI to France Telecom FTE.PA, government and union officials said on Friday.

Cash-strapped Senegal had planned to raise over 200 million euros by selling nearly 10 percent of Sonatel to France Telecom, a move that would have made the French firm the majority shareholder in Sonatel with 52.2 percent.

But critics attacked the deal as “colonial,” complained that jobs would be lost in the process and, in some parts of Dakar, launched “go slow” protests to try and block it.

“The government tells us that the solution of selling (the shares) to France Telecom has been canceled and we can only congratulate the advisors of the president,” Ibrahima Konte, a Sonatel union leader, said on state television on Friday.

Konte was speaking after he held a meeting with a government delegation, which included President Abdoulaye Wade’s son, a newly-appointed government minister.

Former colonial power France had to lend Senegal 125 million euros late last year to help the government clear its internal debts.

The government said in February that it had nearly paid off its debts and just 43 billion CFA franc ($87.13 million) remained.

But the government still needs more money to continue vast infrastructure projects that have been launched.

A senior government official confirmed the cancellation of the share sale to France Telecom but said that they were still looking at other options.

“The state has abandoned the sale to France Telecom but we are not abandoning the selling of shares ... we will seek other means,” he said, asking not to be named.

Sonatel is already listed on the Abidjan-based West African regional bourse (BVRM), where Burkina Faso raised $60 million earlier this year by listing its phone operator ONATEL. ($1=493.5 Cfa Franc) (Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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