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Telecom Italia core shareholders seek to sell: sources

MILAN (Reuters) - Core Italian shareholders in Telecom Italia are seeking to sell their stakes, people familiar with the situation said, a move that could leave the country's largest telecom operator vulnerable to a takeover bid.

Telecom Italia, struggling with a recession in its home market, is controlled by a group of shareholders via Telco, a holding company that owns 22 percent of the shares.

Telco's members - Spain's Telefonica and Italian companies Assicurazioni Generali, Intesa Sanpaolo and Mediobanca - have until September 28 to decide whether they want to exit the pact or stay for another year.

Verizon Communications' $130 billion deal to buy British operator Vodafone out of its U.S. wireless business, announced on Monday, could pave the way for a sector shake-up, analysts have said with Telecom Italia seen as a possible target.

"Mediobanca is a seller either of Telco or Telecom Italia shares," one of the sources told Reuters on Tuesday. "After September 28, Mediobanca will sell on the market."

Insurer Generali is also seeking to sell its shares, but needs to find a buyer that can pay a hefty premium to Telecom Italia's market value, a source familiar with the situation has told Reuters.

Intesa Sanpaolo is also open to considering selling opportunities, another source said.

Telefonica, which has the largest stake in Telecom Italia and also competes directly with the Italian operator in Latin America, is key to its future ownership.

One of the sources said Telefonica wanted to keep the current shareholder structure of Telecom Italia intact and would "react immediately" if its control was threatened, for instance by other Telco shareholders selling to a rival.

Telefonica and the Italian shareholders declined to comment.

(Reporting by Danilo Masoni, Stefano Rebaudo and Arno Schuetze; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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