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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Failed Opel Deal Draws Ire From Putin

RUSSELSHEIM, Germany — Moscow accused General Motors of embodying the United States' scorn for doing business with Europe by abandoning its sale of Opel, whose German workers went on strike on Thursday.

Thousands of auto workers protested at German factories, demanding independence from a company they said had betrayed them by reversing a decision to sell a majority stake in Opel to a Russian-backed consortium.

GM's chief executive sought to soothe the anger by saying the company was "able to run a global business" after it backed out on Tuesday from the deal to sell to Canada's Magna and its Russian partner Sberbank.

But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the about-face after months of talks would leave a bitter taste in some European mouths.

"We will have to take into account this style of dealing with partners in the future, though this scornful approach toward partners mainly affects the Europeans, not us," Putin told a cabinet meeting in Moscow.

"GM did not warn anyone, did not speak to anyone ... despite all the agreements reached and documents signed. Well, I think it is a good lesson."

German officials have condemned GM's decision, which coincided with Chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to Washington where she made her first address by a German leader to the joint U.S. Congress since 1957 and demanded the return of a loan.

A member of a German trust overseeing Opel told Reuters on Wednesday that Opel owes German state and federal governments about 900 million euros ($1.34 million).

Germany viewed Magna and Sberbank as likely to preserve as many German jobs and plants as possible. Half of Opel's 50,000 staff are based in Germany.

Hesse state Prime Minister Roland Koch — one of the biggest lobbyists for a sale to Magna and its Russian partner Sberbank — told rallying workers at Opel headquarters on Thursday that he would fight for Opel.

"We want Opel to continue to exist," he said, warning GM not to "maximize profits by taking German workers hostage."

Several workers said they did not believe that the company could preserve its European arm, blaming it for incompetence.

"We don't need sex because management screws us every day," read one banner held by a protester in Ruesselsheim.

GM chief executive Fritz Henderson said the company would pay back the bridging loan from the German government and tried to soothe concerns about his company's ability to run a company by saying "we are able to run a global business."

British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said earlier that the decision would benefit European taxpayers, especially in Britain, Germany and Spain, and that workers at GM's Vauxhall unit in Britain would prefer to keep the same management.

Vauxhall employs about 5,500 people.

Germany, Britain, Spain and Belgium, all countries with GM-owned plants, were originally expected to provide aid for the rescue of loss-making Opel. GM said it expected that a restructuring of Opel on its own would cost about 3 billion euros.

"Now this is creating uncertainty and some fresh fears amongst Opel and Vauxhall workers," Mandelson told Brussels-based reporters in a video conference from London.

"On the other hand, it will be a significantly less costly deal for European taxpayers, notably German, British and Spanish taxpayers."