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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Business in Brief

Norilsk Unfazed

MOSCOW (MT) -- Management at Norilsk Nickel's Arctic division was unmoved Thursday after leaders of a minority union began a hunger strike after pay talks with the metals giant collapsed.

"A hunger strike when the average salary is higher than 24,500 rubles [$770] is silly," Arctic division head Vitaly Bobrov said in a statement Thursday. "Such a method is more emotional, calculated to impress outsiders than to resolve the issue. … This is blackmail."

He called the move "especially strange and incomprehensible" given that he received a letter from union leaders in which they agreed with the idea of a workers' conference.

Arctic division management called a workers' conference for March 12, according to a company statement. On Wednesday, Bobrov asked the union to choose four representatives by Monday.

Union leaders began the hunger strike at 3 p.m. Thursday for an indefinite period.

Kiev to Sell Oil Stake

KIEV (Prime-Tass) -- The Ukrainian State Property Fund plans to sell 50 percent plus one share in the country's largest oil company, Ukrneft, in the second half of the year, Mikhail Chechetov, the fund's first deputy chairman, said Thursday.

The stake is held by Ukraine's state oil and gas company, Neftegaz Ukrainy.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma ordered the sale, accusing Neftegaz Ukrainy of monopolizing the oil market.

Of Ukrneft's remaining stock, the Cyprus-based Occidental Management Co. holds 11.7 percent and Kiev-based depositary Interregional Fund Union holds 29.8 percent. It is unclear who owns the rest.

Ukraine Unifies Ports

KIEV (Prime-Tass) -- Ukraine's Transportation Ministry plans to create a holding to unify the country's 19 state seaports, an official with Ukraine's Anti-Monopoly Ministry said Wednesday, Itar-Tass reported.

The official said the committee had approved the move.

The new holding company, to be named Ukrmorport and have headquarters in Odessa, is being set up to ensure Ukraine's ports can compete with their Black Sea neighbors, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria, the official said.

Ukraine's ports moved 43 million metric tons of cargo in 2002 compared with 85.5 million tons transshipped by Russian ports, according to the Ukrainian Transportation Ministry.

No other details were provided.

Agency: 4.3% Growth

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Gross domestic product grew 4.3 percent in 2002, down from 5 percent in 2001, the State Statistics Committee said Thursday, citing preliminary data.

The figures were just above market expectations. Economists surveyed in December had expected growth of 3.9 percent to 4.2 percent in 2002.

A government estimate earlier this week put 2002 GDP growth at 4.2 percent. At the start of the year, the Cabinet had targeted 3.6 percent to 3.8 percent.

Sakhalin Gas Needs

TOKYO (Reuters) -- The head of an ExxonMobil affiliate said Thursday that it would need to secure 17 million to 18 million cubic meters per day in natural gas contracts to allow it to go ahead with the construction of a pipeline under the Sakhalin-1 project.

ExxonMobil is the operator of the project to build a link to pipe gas from the Far East island of Sakhalin to Japan.

The pipeline is being designed to deliver up to 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, ExxonMobil said.

Stuart McGill, president of ExxonMobil Gas & Power Marketing Co., told a news conference that it did not expect to secure enough contracts to sell all 8 bcm per year from the beginning.

He said early volumes would likely be closer to 17 million or 18 million cubic meters per day before increasing.

McGill added, however, that it would need to have enough customers to sell all 23 million cubic meters per day in a relatively short period of time after that.

Reserves Up $1.1Bln

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Foreign currency and gold reserves rose $1.1 billion to a new all-time high of $49.3 billion in the week ending Jan. 31, the Central Bank said Thursday.

The bank forecasts that its gold and foreign reserves will rise to $55 billion by the end of 2003.

Gosinkor Dissolved

MOSCOW (MT) -- President Vladimir Putin signed an order dissolving the State Investment Corp., or Gosinkor, which controls confectionary majors Rot Front and Red October, a government source said Thursday, Interfax reported.

The government must pass all Gosinkor property to the Property Ministry within three months, the source said, adding that the move is aimed at improving the effectiveness of state investments.

Gosinkor chief Vladimir Chernov has been relieved of his duties.

Meat Factory Growth

MOSCOW (Prime-Tass) -- Moscow-based meat plant Mikoyanovsky boosted sales 48 percent year on year to 87,000 metric tons, Nikolai Demin, the company's director, said Thursday.

Mikoyanovsky plans this year to double its daily output to 600 tons from 300 tons in 2002 and begin production of pelmeni at a daily output of 50 tons, he said. By 2005 the company expects its annual output to reach 180,000 tons.

New Surgut Board

MOSCOW (Prime-Tass) -- A new board of directors at Surgutneftegaz is to be elected at its annual shareholders meeting March 20, an official with the company said Thursday.

The official said the meeting is also to consider financial results for 2002 and last year's dividends.

72 Audit Suits

MOSCOW (MT) -- The Audit Chamber opened 72 criminal cases in 2002, the chamber's chief, Sergei Stepashin, said in a report presented Thursday.

Stepashin said more than 600 inspections were carried out in more than 1,600 organizations in 70 regions. The chamber paid more attention to its large scale audit of how effectively state budget money was spent, he added.

'Rings' Breaks Record

MOSCOW (MT) -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" set a new record for box office returns in the first 11 days since its opening Jan. 23, earning $176.7 million ($5.56 million), according to film industry data released Thursday.

The movie overtook "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," which brought in 143.2 million rubles in its first 11 days, the Independent Film Distributors Alliance said.