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Sales of previously owned US homes surged in December to make 1998 a record year, the National Association of Realtors said. Sales of existing single-family homes soared 13.5 percent to an all-time high of 4.79 million, beating the previous record of 4.22 million in 1997. The annual rate of sales for December hit a seasonally adjusted 5.03 million units, the strongest month on record. It was the third straight record year for existing-home sales.

The US and European Union failed to reach a compromise aimed at defusing a dispute over bananas that threatens to escalate into a trade war. EU Ambassador Roderick Abbott and his US counterpart, Rita Hayes, emerged from talks in Geneva, then rejoined a World Trade Organization meeting that was to take up a US request for approval of $520 million in sanctions on EU imports.

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The just-announced boycott of Intel products by privacy groups brought a quick response from the company: It said it would disable a controversial new technology that identifies computer users on the Internet. The technology transmits unique serial numbers that help to verify the identities of users. Intel said it would include software that turns off the feature by default in future copies of its Pentium III processors.

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