(Reuters) - ArcelorMittal , the world's largest steelmaker, will keep the furnaces at its Florange plant in eastern France shut until at least the end of the year due to continuing weak demand in Europe, local management said on Friday.
ArcelorMittal halted one furnace at Florange last July and the other in October as part of a wave of production cuts across Europe in response to softening demand for steel.
The fate of Florange emerged as an issue during France's presidential election campaign earlier this year and remains a sensitive political topic as the new Socialist government tries to stave off factory closures with unemployment running at close to a 13-year high.
In a statement following a meeting with unions, ArcelorMittal Atlantique & Lorraine said the prolonged closure of the two blast furnaces at Florange was due to "the fact that the European market is not showing signs of improvement and that the fourth quarter is traditionally a weaker quarter."
ArcelorMittal's finance director told a shareholder meeting last month that the group would take a decision this summer over the future of the Florange plant.
Union officials at the site are to meet new French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace on Monday.
Unions fear the idling of steel production at Florange is a prelude to its permanent closure and will scupper its bid to get European Union funding to develop a carbon capture and storage project at the site.