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French minister sues Booking.com over pricing practices

PARIS, May 27 (Reuters) - French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg filed a legal complaint against U.S.-owned hotel reservation web site Booking.com on Tuesday over what he said were anti-competitive business practices in its dealings with hotels.

Montebourg, who has frequently clashed with foreign companies operating in France, said in a statement he had filed the suit against Booking.com after anti-fraud officials uncovered what they said were unfair clauses in the firm's contracts with hoteliers.

The complaint against Booking.com, owned by U.S.-based Priceline.com, alleges that its contracts unfairly bar hotels from offering their customers any room price lower than those displayed on the web site.

It follows a similar complaint filed by a hoteliers' union against U.S.-based reservation site Expedia, which resulted in fines, in 2013.

"This approach underscores the French government's desire and ability to ensure that national rules are respected by companies operating in the digital sector," the statement from Montebourg's office said, adding that Booking.com executives had been summoned to appear before a Paris commercial court.

Booking.com's practices were damaging for competition in the service sector, as hotels were unable to circumvent the site and its commissions by offering special prices to customers who contacted them directly, it said.

Booking.com and Priceline.com representatives did not immediately return phone calls seeking their response to the French complaint.

The outspoken minister last month signed a decree that broadens the state's power to block foreign takeovers in strategic industries, in keeping with his policy of intervening in business affairs to protect French firms.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Larry King)