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UPDATE 2-Mozambique energy minister sacked ahead of huge gas deals

(Adds details on Couto's new position)

MAPUTO, Sept 29 Mozambique Energy Minister Pedro Couto has been sacked, the presidency said on Thursday, a month before Italy's Eni is due to finalise an offshore gas project worth tens of billions of dollars.

No reason was given for the dismissal of Couto, who had held the energy portfolio since January 2015. A separate statement said he had been appointed as president of Mozambique's Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power company.

The southern African state discovered offshore gas reserves six years ago amounting to some 85 trillion cubic feet, one of the largest finds in a decade and enough to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for nearly two decades.

The gas offers Mozambique an opportunity to transform itself from one of the world's poorest countries into a middle-income state and a major global liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter.

Negotiations with operators Eni and U.S. firm Anadarko have dragged on for years due to disputes over terms and concerns about falling energy prices. However, there have been several signs of significant progress in recent months.

Eni met with bankers in London last week about project financing to develop the Coral field, a significant step in getting the first of a series of long-delayed LNG projects off the ground.

Eni struck a deal in July with Samsung Heavy as part of a consortium with France's Technip and Japan's JGC to build a floating LNG platform in a deal worth around $5.4 billion.

Exxon Mobil is close to buying into Eni's Mozambique's assets, sources told Reuters last month. (Reporting by Manuel Mucari, writing by Joe Brock, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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