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F Telecom cuts 14,500 jobs

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) – The main French telecom operator, France Telecom, is to cut 14,500 jobs worldwide this year as it pursues a widescale restructuring, the company told AFP on Monday.

Of the total, 8,800 jobs would be shed in France, on the basis of forecasts for early retirement, the transfer of staff to other public-sector jobs and for recruitment, which were communicated to AFP by France Telecom management.

France Telecom, which is 54-percent owned by the French state, is striving to reduce its massive debt pile after being rescued from financial crisis with state help in 2002.

At its height, the group had debt amounting to EUR 70 billion (USD 87 billion), one of the highest corporate debt levels ever. But during its financial crisis, it stressed that operating profits were rising strongly.

Last year, it slashed 13,100 posts, including 7,700 in France.For 2003-2005, France Telecom has already announced the loss of 22,000 posts in France through retirement and early retirement.

It plans to shed 5,700 posts outside France this year, particularly in Poland where France Telecom owns 47.5 percent of the operator TPSA.

When a limited amount of hiring is factored in, the French company expects to employ a total of 202,500 workers at the end of 2004, down from 217,000.It is recovering from a shaky past, but quickly placed earlier this month a EUR 2.5-billion bond issue that was four times oversubscribed.

“The large over-subscription  more than four times  and the speed of the bookbuilding evidence the investor confidence in the quality of the France Telecom credit,” the company said January 8 in a statement.

A company spokeswoman said one day earlier that France Telecom’s return to the debt market was a sign it “is becoming a normal company”.

It got a boost in December from plans to join satellite broadcaster TPS in offering television access via France Telecom’s telephone lines.

The offer of 48 television channels was to cost EUR 37 per month plus a one-time installation fee of EUR 64.

Pay-per-view programs would also be available, the telecoms operator said.

“With this new service, customers can simultaneously telephone, surf the Internet and watch television on a regular TV set,” a company statement said on December 19.

Available already in the central city of Lyon, the so-called triple play services were to be extended to Paris in the coming months, “followed by a swift rollout in other major French cities”.


                                Subject: France news