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Poland Needs More Time For Shipyards

Nation asked the European Commission for more time to privatize three ailing shipyards, as workers demonstrated to demand that the government save the storied yards and their jobs.

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Poland on Thursday asked the European Commission for more time to privatize three ailing shipyards, as workers demonstrated to demand that the government save the storied yards and their jobs.

The European Union's executive Commission has given Poland until midnight Thursday to make changes to a restructuring plan for the Szczecin, Gdynia and Gdansk shipyards.

However, Treasury Minister Aleksander Grad told reporters that he would ask Brussels to give Poland until the end of September to negotiate a new privatization agreement and restructuring plan for the yards.

"We are ready to meet and fulfill the EU Commission's expectations, but for that to be possible we must simultaneously renegotiate the privatization agreement and not do it over the course of a couple of days or hours," Grad said. "If we do that we could make mistakes ... and not secure the Treasury's interests."

The shipyards are unprofitable and have needed massive state aid to stay afloat. That aid has violated the EU's pro-market regulations, and Brussels has demanded that Warsaw restructure the yards.

If Poland fails to restructure to the EU's satisfaction, the government could be forced to reclaim from the shipyards subsidies amounting to hundreds of millions of euros.

The EU said Wednesday that Poland's existing restructuring plan could not be cleared under EU state aid rules because it did not ensure that the yards can survive commercially in the long term.

On Thursday, some 3,000 shipyard workers, wearing yellow safety helmets, marched through the northwestern city of Szczecin to demand that the government save their jobs.

They say EU demands to make the shipyards more profitable would put more than 1,000 workers -- a third of the work force -- out of their jobs.

The shipyards have historical resonance in Poland --especially the one in Gdansk, the birthplace of the Solidarity labor union and pro-democracy movement in the 1980s.

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