THURY-SOUS-CLERMONT, France (AP) ¿ GDF Suez deputy chief executive Jean-Francois Cirelli Friday defended the manner in which the French electricity and natural gas utility shares out its profits, after his 180-percent salary increase re-ignited the debate over executive compensation in France.

Cirelli's salary soared to euro1.3 million last year from euro460,000 in 2007, following the merger of Gaz de France with Suez. Cirelli had been chief executive of state-controlled GDF and became deputy CEO of the much larger GDF Suez following the merger. The French government remains the group's largest shareholder with 35.7 percent.

"If you look at how the value created by the company is divided, you'll see that in the 2008 earnings, 11 billion went to employees, 11 billion went for investment and 5 billion went to shareholders," Cirelli told reporters at a company seminar.

"It seems to me that GDF Suez's division of the value created by company is very reasonable," Cirelli said.

Asked whether the debate over his raise was justified, Cirelli said "Everyone can have an opinion, I don't want to get into it."

Cirelli's raise was disclosed in GDF Suez's annual report, which was released earlier this week. On Thursday, the former leader of France's Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, called Cirelli's raise "shocking."

Executive compensation has become a hot-button issue in France, with the heads of banks and automakers recently forced to give up bonuses and stock options after they received financial aid from the French government.

Last month GDF Suez, which did not receive a state bailout and posted rising profits last year, said Cirelli and GDF Suez CEO Gerard Mestrallet had given back stock options they had been given last year.

Late last month a government decree came into force which bans stock options at state-aided companies, and bans bonuses if a company is undergoing "large-scale" layoffs, though it doesn't indicate how it would measure this. Otherwise, bonuses are allowed but must be publicly approved by the board and based on performance, not linked to a company's stock price.

The decree applies primarily to several banks, automakers and state companies that have struggled most dramatically amid the crisis.
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