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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Arcelor strengthens bid defence
Worker at Arcelor steel plant in eastern France
Arcelor has opposed the merger with Mittal Steel from the start
Steel firm Arcelor has announced it is to increase its 2005 dividend and distribute a further 5bn euros (3.4bn; $6.1bn) to shareholders.

The move is part of Arcelor's attempts to fend off a $25.1bn takeover bid from rival Mittal Steel.

Arcelor added it would transfer the shares it owns in Canadian firm Dofasco to a foundation, which would make any sale of Dofasco harder.

Mittal has pledged to sell Dofasco if it succeeds in buying Arcelor.

Bid battle

Arcelor's board has opposed Mittal's bid from the outset and the company's chief executive, Guy Dolle, has been trying to convince investors of the company's need to remain independent.

Some politicians have also opposed the deal for fear of job losses. The company's workforce totals 98,000 worldwide.

A merger between Arcelor and Mittal Steel would create a company with about 10% of the world's total steel output.

Mittal has valued Arcelor at considerably more than its market value. The original offer made in January was for 20.8bn euros while the company's market value currently stands at 14.2bn euros.

Arcelor announced a dividend earlier in the year that far exceeded expectations. Mittal Steel recently said it would alter the cash part of its offer to reflect this.

However, Arcelor has now said it will raise its 2005 dividend from 1.20 euros a share to 1.85 euros, in addition to returning 5bn euros to shareholders.

The opposition by Arcelor comes at a time when the European Commission has expressed worries over what it sees as economic nationalism, by nations trying to prevent cross border mergers.

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