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Alitalia takes off under private ownership

MILAN, January 13 – Italy\’s flagship carrier took to the skies under private ownership on Tuesday, facing turbulence on the ground as employees and airport workers staged protests.

Protests at Milan\’s Linate airport caused about 10 flight cancellations, the ANSA news agency reported.

At Milan\’s Malpensa, employees protested at check-in areas, while a union representing flight attendants and ground crew protested at Rome\’s Fiumicino airport as well as airport workers whose transport service has been dropped by the new Alitalia, ANSA said.

The protests were much smaller than feared thanks to 11th-hour accords on working conditions reached Monday night between management and the unions.

On Monday, the airline taken over by the Italian Air Company (CAI) grouping prominent Italian business leaders, announced that it had sealed a deal with Air France-KLM under which the European giant acquired a 25 percent stake for 323 million euros (432 million dollars).

CAI\’s investors put up 1.052 billion euros to acquire the passenger operations of Alitalia, and another 300 million for domestic rival Air One, whose managing director Carlo Toto reinvested 60 million euros in the new company.

In making the acquisition, Air France beat out its great European rival Lufthansa, which is expanding on several other fronts.

Lufthansa wanted a more than 25 percent of the company, CAI managing director Rocco Sabelli said in an interview published on Tuesday.

The German airline never made a formal offer, and had asked for "revenues from joint operations to be paid into a common fund, a sort of hidden merger," he told the Italian daily La Stampa.

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Flying the same colours as before, the first planes of the relaunched Alitalia took off from Palermo for Rome and from Milan for Sao Paulo, Brazil, early Tuesday morning.

The streamlined company has some 12,000 employees after shedding more than 3,000 jobs.

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