By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) - Libya is still in the race to save France's Petit-Couronne refinery from liquidation, trade unions said late on Tuesday, as the embattled workers press the French government to help bidders or requisition the plant.
France's Industry Minister said earlier this month he had received a non-binding letter of interest from Libya's sovereign wealth fund to buy the refinery of insolvent Swiss refiner Petroplus.
But French media said this week the Libyan Investment Authority had withdrawn its bid to take over the refinery, the oldest in France, citing a report from Libya's LANA news agency.
"The Libyans were withdrawing yesterday, but today they're not withdrawing anymore, they're still there, so much the better," Yvon Scornet, the trade union representative for the refinery, told reporters outside the Prime Minister's office.
The chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority, Mohsen Derregia, told Reuters last week they had started due diligence to invest in the refinery and would send a team to France to evaluate the investment opportunity.
"Now they have access to the data room," Scornet told Reuters on Tuesday after a late evening meeting with government advisors.
French daily newspaper Le Monde said earlier this month that the French government favored a deal with Libya. Unions prefer a bid by Dubai-based NetOil.
"We have a bid which is well advanced, it's NetOil's. We ask the government to take its responsibilities. If the government needs to do something to tip the balance in their favor, it should do it," Scornet said.
NetOil, a company led by Middle Eastern businessman Roger Tamraz, submitted an improved offer after a court in Rouen in northern France rejected its initial bid on financial and technical grounds earlier this month.
The court has reset to February 5, 2013, the new deadline to submit bids for the refinery and will review offers next week.
But unions want the sale process to be sped up, as a oil reprocessing deal with former owner Shell that has kept the plant alive since January is due to stop mid-December.
"We can't wait until February, unless Shell accepts to continue producing with us, which they don't want at the moment," Scornet said.
"If we can't manage that, the government should requisition the refinery, and keep it under protection for one, two or three years, when the market is better and industry picks up."
(Reporting by Michel Rose; editing by Carol Bishopric)