General Motors

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moved Friday to make its German unit Opel more independent in return for aid from the German government.

Opel needs about $4.2 billion to continue to operate successfully, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster said Friday. Forster said Opel would retain links to GM, but outside investors would hold more than 25% of the company.

"There are still no decisions about plant closures or forced layoffs," Forster said.

The Opel board met Friday after thousands of workers protested Thursday in Ruesselsheim, calling for an independent Opel after 80 years as a unit of GM, the


reported. Saving the 25,000 German jobs at Opel is a goal of the government's, with September elections looming.

Forster said the plan will be formally presented to the German government on Monday.

GM acquired Opel, its largest European brand, in 1929. GM reported Thursday that its European operations lost $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter, largely as a result of lower sales, an unfavorable model mix, unfavorable foreign exchange and commodity hedging. Those issues were partially offset by strong cost performance.

On a conference call with reporters last week, CEO Rick Wagoner said GM was considering funding options for Opel. "We're going to need to listen to all options," he said. "We don't have anyone asking to buy Opel."

Late Friday morning, GM shares were trading down 22 cents at $2.16, while shares in


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were down 10 cents to $1.88.