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2,000 Montenegro Workers Protest Factory Closing

Workers of aluminum maker KAP defied a police ban and gathered in front of government headquarters to put pressure on officials to make sure the factory remains open.

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) -- About 2,000 workers in Montenegro protested Wednesday over the possible closure of a factory owned by embattled Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

The workers of aluminum maker KAP, the biggest Montenegrin exporter, defied a police ban and gathered in front of government headquarters to put pressure on officials to make sure the factory remains open.

Montenegro's economy, already in crisis because of the global financial meltdown, would destabilize further if the factory closes.

Deripaska, once Russia's richest man, is struggling for financial survival as his aluminum maker UC Rusal heads into grueling talks with creditors over billions of dollars in debt.

The embattled company, one of the largest aluminum producers in the world, has until early May to reach a deal with foreign lenders to restructure $7.4 billion in loans. It owes nearly $7 billion to domestic banks.

Deripaska bought KAP in 2006, but later sued the Montenegrin state for euro330 million, claiming the government, as a former KAP owner, did not present the true economic situation of the factory when the sale was made.

KAP's production of around 120,000 tones of aluminum per year, had been halved because of low aluminum prices amid the global financial crisis.

The government responded with a countersuit, claiming the Russian company failed to fulfill obligations of the sale contract, especially in the area of investments and environmental protection.

KAP is the tiny Adriatic country's biggest exporter, accounting for 40 percent of the Balkan state's industrial production. Together with a bauxite mine, it has 4,000 employees.

The country, meanwhile, is preparing to hold early elections Sunday. Many analysts believe Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic called the vote because he believes the global financial crisis could dent his popularity over the long term.

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