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EU clears Hutchison's $1 billion takeover of O2 Ireland

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[May 28, 2014]  By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa <0013.HK> gained European Union regulatory approval on Wednesday for its $1 billion bid for Telefonica's <TEF.MC> Irish business after agreeing to aid two smaller rivals in Ireland.

Hutchison, controlled by Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, is looking to strengthen its position in Europe where it operates in six countries.

Hutchison, with the fourth largest mobile network in Ireland, will buy the country's second-largest operator O2 Ireland but will still be behind market leader Vodafone <VOD.L>.

The European Commission said Hutchison will have to sell up to 30 percent of the merged company's network capacity to two mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which use the networks of other companies to offer telecoms services.

It will also have to divest five blocks of mobile frequencies in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands to the MVNOs at a later stage and continue a network-sharing agreement with Ireland's third-biggest operator, eircom.

"It is essential that healthy competition is preserved in mobile telecoms markets. The commitments offered by Hutchison 3G ensure that Irish consumers will continue to enjoy these benefits," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.

Hutchison's 3 Ireland welcomed the EU clearance.

"It leaves 3 optimally positioned to become the No.1 player by providing the best value and service to our customers," Chief Executive Robert Finnegan said in a statement.

Reuters reported on May 16 that the deal would be cleared by the European Commission with conditions.

(Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and David Goodman)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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