Orange pull-out leaves just one bidder for Le Monde

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France Telecom subsidiary Orange and an allied press group on Monday withdrew a bid to buy France's Le Monde newspaper, leaving only one consortium left in the race.

The move came after Le Monde journalists' association, the paper's main shareholder, voted Friday for the daily to be taken over by three French investors who President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to block.

That consortium is made up of Pierre Berge, ex-partner of the late fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, Lazard banker Matthieu Pigasse and internet tycoon Xavier Niel.

Le Monde's supervisory board meets Monday to give its verdict on the remaining bid, with a definitive decision due by the end of the week at a general assembly of all shareholders.

The internationally respected daily is being crushed by a mountain of debt and put out a call to investors capable of injecting between 80 and 120 million euros (100 to 150 million dollars) to come to its aid.

The search for fresh capital turned political this month when Sarkozy stepped in and met with the publisher of the daily, Eric Fottorino.

The president told Fottorino that he opposed the Berge-Pigasse-Niel bid because of their ties to France's left wing, drawing accusations from the opposition Socialist Party that Sarkozy was threatening press freedom.

© 2010 AFP

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