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PARIS (AP) — The French government is nationalizing the country’s emblematic Saint Nazaire shipyard to ensure an Italian company does not take it over at the end of the week.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire insisted that the decision is temporary and meant to buy time and that negotiations with the Italian state-owned group Fincantieri will continue. He said he was going to Rome on Tuesday for more talks.

The unexpected decision to nationalize the Saint Nazaire shipyard on the Atlantic coast is the first major foray into the industrial sector for President Emmanuel Macron, and runs counter to the free-market image the French chief of state has sought to project.

Le Maire did not use the word “nationalize” during his announcement, speaking only of the “right of preemption.” That did not change the fact that the French state is taking over the shipyard, which last year turned out the world’s largest cruise ship, the Harmony of the Seas, created the Queen Mary II and builds hulls of military ships, including aircraft carriers.

France’s single object is “to defend the strategic interests of France,” Le Maire said. France, trying to beat back a 10 percent unemployment rate, also wants to guarantee jobs for the shipyard workers, who could potentially be replaced by Italians. Le Maire said current orders mean there are 11 years of guaranteed work ahead.

The Italians have rejected a proposal that would have given each side 50 percent, with operational control being held by Fincantieri. But time was running out for Paris.

France held 33 percent of the shares in the shipyard, formally known as STX France, with a weekend deadline before Fincantieri bought it.

Italy’s foreign minister said his country “doesn’t accept ultimatums.”

“We’ll see what France will do,” Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as telling reporters earlier in Milan. “It doesn’t seem to me there are great precedents of technical nationalizations. We’ll see what will be, from the juridical point of view, the final decision of the French government and then we’ll take our decisions.”


Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.