ROME (Reuters) - Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. (AA.N) began shutting down its factory on the Italian island of Sardinia on Saturday, laying off hundreds of workers in a region already hard-hit by unemployment and economic crisis.
Alcoa said "the economic situation and the burdens imposed by the European regulatory system" forced the decision, and the process of shutting down the smelter and foundry would be complete within a few weeks.
On Friday, Italy's industry ministry said Swiss multinational Glencore (GLEN.L) was weighing a purchase of the loss-making plant and would give its assessment within a week, leaving open the possibility of a last-minute rescue.
Alcoa said it would maintain the facility so that it could be restarted for a period of one year, with employees retained until the end of December 2012.
Colourful protests by workers brought the factory's possible closure into political focus this week, as Mario Monti's technocrat government struggles to bring in reforms and cut the debt burden that has made Italy a focal point of the euro zone crisis.
Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Mark Potter