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The fourth-largest telecommunications company in Europe was effectively without a board of directors after a last-minute maneuver Friday torpedoed Telecom Italia's presumed merger with Germany's Deutsche Telekom, which would have been the largest in corporate history. The dramatic turnaround came when all but one of Telecom Italia's major shareholders sold out to rival Olivetti. Olivetti, whose hostile takeover bid had been fought for weeks earlier this spring, now controls 51.02 percent of Telecom Italia stock. There was no immediate word on the fate of managing director Franco Bernabe, who led the resistance fight, but he was widely expected to resign.

Foreigners now may acquire up to a 50-percent equity stake in Taiwan's banks, according to a published report. Quoting a senior Finance Ministry official, The China Times said the announcement was aimed at speeding up the overhaul of the island nation's troubled banking system, which is attempting to cope with a surge in nonperforming loans. No law specifically bans foreign ownership, but the Taipei government has long unofficially discouraged prospective investors.

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