Workers who threatened to blow up French factory resume talks

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Negotiations resumed last night to try to persuade redundant textile workers at Givet in northern France to abandon their threat to blow up their artificial fibres factory.

Negotiations resumed last night to try to persuade redundant textile workers at Givet in northern France to abandon their threat to blow up their artificial fibres factory.

Despite official denunciation of their action as "blackmail" and "hostage-taking", the French government was expected to offer the 153 workers at the Cellatex plant slightly improved redundancy terms and promises of new job opportunities.

The Employment Minister, Martine Aubry, said that the "despair" of the workers must be "taken into account".

Whether the Cellatex workers would back down from their sweeping demands remained unclear, however: they want a £15,000 lump redundancy payment; full, publicly funded salaries until new jobs are found; and full salary until pension age for the over-50s.

The tension seemed to have abated at the factory yesterday. The workers' leaders said they were confident that the international press attention given to the explosion threat and the attempt to poison the river Meuse with sulphuric acid on Monday would force the French government to back down.

Although union leaders tried to calm the climate, individual workers continued to insist that the explosion threat was real.

The workers say they have enough carbon sulphate and other chemicals in the factory to blow a hole 500 metres wide and 50 metres deep, destroying scores of houses and another chemical factory near by and potentially releasing a cloud of toxic fumes over northern France and Belgium.

The threat has provoked only muted criticism in the French press.

Statements of solidarity have flowed in from other factories around the country.

The local branch of theCommunist-linked CGT trades union federation said the Cellatex "struggle" had become "a kind of symbol of resistance of an entire region stricken by globalisation".

The factory, the last textile plant in a once-flourishing local industry, has been under pressure from cheaper Asian imports for 10 years.

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