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Five bidders now eyeing Alitalia

Italy has shortlisted five bidders for the auction to buy Alitalia.

They include Carlo Toto, boss of rival Italian airline Air One, as well as US private equity fund Texas Pacific and Italian banking group UniCredit. They are joined by a consortium led by Italian entrepreneur Carlo De Benedetti and another US private equity group, Matlin Patterson Global Advisers. Rome is selling 30.1% of the ailing airline, which would require the buyer to make a formal bid for the rest. The Italian government said the five suitors now had until mid-April to present non-binding offers. It first announced details of the sale in December, and chose the final five bidders from the 11 groups that originally expressed interest. The Italian government currently has a 49.9% stake in the airline. Alitalia said last month it expected to see its annual losses widen to €380 million ($498 million) in 2006. The airline has struggled against strong competition from low-cost rivals, higher fuel prices, over-staffing and numerous strikes by employees. (BBC NEWS)