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Imperial Chemical Industries plc is selling its 62 percent stake in its Australian subsidiary, ICI Australia Ltd. of Melbourne, ending a 69-year presence in Australia.

In Australia, ICI produces polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC.

The Australian sale will net ICI plc A$2.3 billion (US$1.79 billion), which will be used partly to fund ICI's planned US$8 billion acquisition of the international specialty chemicals business of Unilever plc, a specialty chemicals producer with headquarters in London and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

London-based ICI's shares in ICI Australia will be offered to institutional and retail investors in Australian and international equity markets, beginning in July.

Australian business analysts have speculated that the sale opens the possibility of a takeover bid for ICI Australia by a major multinational company with plastics or chemical operations.

Mike Feehan, ICI Australia corporate affairs manager, said the company ``was not fueling takeover speculation'' and expects the shares to be ``spread widely'' among Australian and international investors. However, he said there is the potential for one company to acquire ``all, or a significant chunk,'' of the shares.

ICI Australia, which has plastics, chemicals and explosives divisions, recorded net profit of A$197 million (US$153.4 million), based on sales of A$3.46 billion (US$2.7 billion), for the year ended June 30.

The firm's plastics unit suffered a 97 percent drop in operating profit from A$73 million (US$56.8 million) in 1995 to A$2 million (US$1.56 million) in 1996.

ICI plc has held majority interest in ICI Australia for 69 years. Warren Haynes, ICI Australia managing director, said ICI Australia and ICI plc are likely to continue some commercial relationships.

In the meantime, ICI Australia is taking a ``business as usual'' approach, he said, with the company aspiring to expand its plastics operations in Asia and considering establishing a A$2 billion (US$1.56 billion) petrochemical plant in western Australia.

Feehan said a name change for the unit is probable, once the ownership is resolved.