Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Aventis workers protest hostile Sanofi takeover

The Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany - About 5,000 workers for the German division of French drug maker Aventis protested Tuesday against a proposed hostile takeover by France's Sanofi-Synthelabo SA - which they fear will cost jobs in Germany.

Workers carried signs with slogans such as "Hands Off Aventis" at a meeting, called by local management, at the company's major German plant in Hoechst.

A merger would create a new drug giant ranked third in global sales behind U.S. Pfizer Inc. and British-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

Some European media have speculated that Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. would be interested in Aventis. P&G and Aventis have a partnership to market the osteoporosis drug Actonel. P&G has declined to comment.

The French government is pushing the merger to create a "national champion" that would give France one of the world's major players in the industry.

But Aventis' management has vowed to resist the hostile bid, initially valued at about $60 billion, and is urging shareholders not to accept a deal that it says would leave them shortchanged.

Of Aventis' 70,000 workers worldwide, about 9,000 are in Germany, most of them at the firm's plant near Frankfurt. German government officials have expressed concern about the possible loss of jobs if the company combines redundant operations.

The meeting was held so that workers could express their opinions and ask management what it planned to do, but officials were short of concrete answers about potential job losses.

Heinz-Werner Meier, the head of Aventis Pharma Deutschland GmbH and the top human resources official for Aventis, promised "a long and hard fight" against the deal but said it wouldn't need government help. "We can deal with Sanofi alone," he said.

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