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Saudi's HITS to expand in Africa, Latin America

Mobile telecom also looking to acquire majority stake in European operator.

Saudi Arabian mobile operator HITS Telecom said on Tuesday it planned to expand its operations in Africa and Latin America and to acquire a majority stake in a European operator.

HITS Africa, a unit of HITS Telecom, aims to increase its presence to eight countries from the current four countries it operates in, the company's chief executive told reporters in Kuwait, where it listed its shares on Tuesday.

"Today we are in four countries, we will go for eight in 2012," said Talaat El Lahham, CEO of HITS Africa.

He declined to name any, saying only the firm aimed to acquire majority stakes in existing telecoms operators.

Currently, the firm operates in Tanzania, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it has invested more than $300 million in total. It is also active in Brazil.

HITS Africa plans to raise its capital through selling stakes to private equity investors, but not in the coming two years, he said.

HITS Telecom said in June it planned to raise $300 million by selling a stake in its African unit to private equity investors.

"That's the first phase. We have raised part of it... [and] before June will raise another $200 million," said Lahham.

In Africa, HITS also aims to increase it subscriber base from four million to six million by 2012 in Africa.

The telecom firm also wants to expand into Europe and is in talks to buy a stake in a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) company. Such a firm typically has no network of its own and operates through alliances with partners.

"It is a European company working in the MVNO. The current negotiations are in their final stage to acquire 51% in it as a base to enter other European markets," said Mamdouh El-Sherbiny, chief executive of Kuwait's Al-Madina for Finance and Investment, a co-owner of HITS Telecom. (Reuters)

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