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What would be the largest corporate merger in history was hinging on a meeting of Telecom Italia's board of directors in Rome and may be announced as soon as today, inside sources said. The former government-owned monopoly confirmed for regulators that it's considering an alliance with Germany's Deutsche Telekom, a deal whose potential worth is estimated at more than $200 billion. Telecom Italia has been exploring various strategies to resist a $65.2 billion hostile takeover by rival Olivetti.

Columbia Energy Group offered to buy Consolidated Natural Gas for $70 a share, or about $6.7 billion, in an attempt to wrest the Pittsburgh-based producer from Dominion Resource, Virginia's largest power company. Consolidated Natural agreed to a $6.3 billion Dominion acquisition offer in February, but the deal's value has eroded to about $5.5 billion as Dominion's stock price has slipped. Herndon, Va.-based Columbia said it sought a negotiated merger.

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BellSouth Corp said it would invest about $3.5 billion for a 10 percent equity stake in Denver-based Qwest Communications International as part of an alliance between the companies to provide digital communications services.

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