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Italy steelmaker Riva to ask on steps to restart production

ROME/MILAN (Reuters) - Italian steelmaker Riva Acciaio will ask a court officer what steps it needs to take to resume production at several of its sites in northern Italy, the Italian Industry Ministry said on Monday.

Last week Riva, owner of one of Europe's largest steel mills, halted operations in northern Italy and sent home 1,400 workers after an asset seizure blocked banking operations, making it impossible to run the plants.

"The company has shown full readiness to cooperate to try and restart operations while underscoring the strong ongoing management and financial problems caused by the asset seizure," the ministry said after a meeting with Riva representatives.

Earlier this year tax police said they would seize assets worth 8.1 billion euros (6.80 billion pounds) belonging to the Riva family as part of a probe into alleged environmental crimes at the family's steel group ILVA in southern Italy.

Investigative sources have told Reuters the tax police has to date seized 2.2 billion euros from the family.

Riva Acciaio's operations in northern Italy are separate from ILVA but the seizure order relating to the southern steel mill has frozen its country-wide banking operations.

In a separate statement on Monday Riva Acciaio, which confirmed it would appeal last Monday's seizure notice, said it would request a meeting with the court officer handling the assets to see if there was a way operations could be restarted.

Earlier Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta criticised the company for suspending production and said the government may try to put the plants under special administration.

"It's crazy, Riva can't use the workers as a kind of retaliation against the prosecutors," Letta said in an interview on state television.

Italy is grappling with rising unemployment during its longest post-war recession.

The government will "put all pressure on the company to re-open" the plants, Letta said. "They can definitely maintain operations."

Riva Acciaio is part of Gruppo Riva Forni Elettrici, which has 20 plants worldwide. Riva Forni Elettrici produced around 7.8 million tonnes of steel in 2012, according to its website.

Union and industry groups have said they are worried about the impact of the seizure on jobs.

The ILVA steel plant has embarked on a two-year clean-up operation after prosecutors alleged that toxic emissions had caused abnormally high levels of cancer and respiratory illness in the region.

In June the Italian government appointed a special commissioner to run the troubled plant, which accounts for 40 percent of the country's overall steel output, and oversee cleanup operations.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio and Stephen Jewkes, writing by Gavin Jones; editing by David Evans and Andrew Hay)