The final beam transport in the reactor chamber for heavy ion fusion in preformed plasma channels offers many attractive advantages compared to other transport modes. In the past few years, experiments at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) accelerator facility have addressed the creation and investigation of discharge plasmas, designed for the transport of intense ion beams. Stable, self-standing channels of 50 cm length with currents up to 55 kA were initiated in low-pressure ammonia gas by a CO2-laser pulse along the channel axis before the discharge is triggered. The channels were characterized by several plasma diagnostics including interferometry and spectroscopy. We also present first experiments on laser-guided intersecting discharges.