Belarus says may sell stake in gas transit venture

MINSK, April 7 (Reuters) - Belarus may sell part of its 50 percent stake in Beltransgas, a company that tranships Russian gas to Europe, to raise much-needed cash, the State Property Fund said on Thursday.

Belarus is in talks with Russia over a $3 billion bailout loan that could help the former Soviet republic avoid a sharp devaluation of the rouble BYR=, which has come under pressure due to large current accound deficit.

Analysts say Russia may seek to extract bargains from Minsk and take over its key assets.

"We will get the most money from large deals," Natalya Zhernosek, the head of State Property Fund, told reporters. "The sale ... of a certain stake in Beltransgas is possible."

Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote) has already bought for $2.5 billion a 50 percent stake in Beltransgas which tranships about 15 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Europe annually.

Among other assets Belarus has said it could sell are the government's stake in a joint venture with Russian mobile telecom firm MTS (MBT.N: Quote) and Belaruskali, one of the world's top producers of fertilizers.

Raising several billion dollars through asset sales could help the government of President Alexander Lukashenko avoid radical spending cuts and a rouble devaluation.

Economic woes threaten to wipe out generous wage increases handed out by Lukashenko's government in the run-up to the December 2010 election in which he secured a fourth term in office.

According to the Belarus-based Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, Lukashenko's approval rating fell to 43 percent in early March from 53 percent in December, mostly on economic concerns. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Catherine Evans)


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