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Business

Thousands Rally in Germany Against GM Restructuring Plans

Thousands of workers employed by General Motors in Europe took to the streets Thursday, Feb. 26, to demonstrate against the giant US carmaker's sweeping restructuring plans and to save their jobs.

An estimate 15,000 employees of German car maker Opel carrying placards and banners demonstrate for the company's survival at the Opel headquarters in Ruesselsheim near Frankfurt, central Germany

An estimated 15,000 Opel employees demonstrated

Thousands of workers employed by General Motors in Europe took to the streets Thursday to demonstrate against the giant US carmaker's sweeping restructuring plans and to save their jobs.

The protests came as GM's German offshoot Opel prepared to unveil a rescue plan for the German operations and the government in Berlin stepped up its criticism of the US-based auto group amid a deepening crisis in the global car industry.

Carrying placards saying "No closures in Europe," "Free Opel" and "Opel cannot be allowed to die," up to 15,000 demonstrators turned up for the rally held at Opel's German headquarters in the western city of Ruesselsheim.

Many workers were bussed in from other Opel plants in Eisenach, Bochum and Kaiserslautern to protest planned job cuts and closures.

Trade union IG Metall's boss Berthold Huber told the assembled masses that Opel could not be allowed to perish. "We're not going to accept plant closures or layoffs," he said.

Steinmeier pledges to keep Opel in business

Demonstrators listened intently as Germany's Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pledged to help keep Opel in business.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Steinmeier said he would fight for Opel jobs

"This is a fight for jobs and I'm fighting without any reservation for you," Steinmeier said outside the company, which has been making cars in Germany since 1899. "Opel is a part of German history. We've got to defend that history.

"This is about more than just Opel. It's about the future of the car industry in Germany. The car sector isn't just any ordinary industry here. It's the backbone of our economy," Steinmeier, the Social Democrat's chancellor candidate chosen to run against Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's federal election, said.

Merkel told a news conference in Berlin she had not yet seen the required restructuring plan to decide on any state help for Opel but that if it needed it, the priority would be financing guarantees rather than more direct state aid.

"Germany has an interest in strengthening companies which have a strong foundation," she said.

Opel, once Germany's biggest carmaker, is just one of General Motors' European brands which are near collapse in the wake of the global crisis. The German firm has been hit by weak demand and its woes have been aggravated by troubles at its US parent.

It became the first European carmaker to seek a government bailout since the financial crisis began, asking the German government for backing to guarantee loans of about 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for 2009. Sources close to the company say it needs 3.3 billion euros to keep afloat through to the end of 2011.

Economics minister blasts GM

At the same time of the demonstrations, German Economics Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was lashing out at Detroit-based GM, criticizing the company for failing to provide adequate information about future business plan for Opel.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Guttenberg made it clear who he thinks is to blame

The German Economics Minister said up until now both potential investors and the German Government still did not know what the GM group planned for Opel, which is expected to unveil a rescue plan possibly on Friday which Opel hopes will pave the way for Berlin to provide the struggling carmaker with aid.

But the European Commission warned Thursday that it would take action to head off countries providing what it considered to be unfair support to their national car sectors.

In addition to Germany, GM has operations in Britain, Spain and Sweden. However, GM's Swedish SAAB company has already filed for bankruptcy protection.

As part of the plans under consideration by Opel, the auto group is also weighing up breaking away completely from its troubled US parent that is threatened with insolvency despite $17.4 billion Washington lent GM and rival Chrysler last year.

GM's far-reaching restructuring plans include big job cuts worldwide and could result in its hiving off parts of its international operations.

German carmakers including Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, the manufacturer of luxury Mercedes-Benz cars have already cut production and placed employees on reduced working hours as they face up to the global economic slowdown.

nda/th (dpa/afp/rtrs)

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