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French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde on Sunday called for bosses at France Telecom to meet urgently to tackle a wave of suicides at the former state monopoly.

A spokesman for the Labour Ministry told Reuters on Saturday Labour Minister Xavier Darcos will meet Chief Executive Didier Lombard early this week to see what can be done to remedy a problem that unions blame on restructuring and work pressure.

"I do not know what the problem is, but what I have asked the chairman of France Telecom with Xavier Darcos is to convene a directors meeting urgently," Ms. Lagarde told television news magazine "7 a Voir" on channel France 3.

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Ms. Lagarde said she wanted that "at the highest level, there is both a very strong message vis-a-vis the whole workforce and that instructions are given to the hierarchy so these problems are addressed."

Unions called for the state to step in after another employee killed herself on Friday. A union source said the 32-year-old woman had jumped from a fourth floor window after an office meeting.

Her death brought the number of suicides to 22 since the start of 2008, according to a website set up by unions. There have also been 13 attempted suicides. The site says there are no official statistics, either from the company or elsewhere.

The French state continues to own 27 per cent of France Telecom's share capital after the group was privatized in the 1990s. Two-thirds of its French staff have civil-servant status.

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