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A decision on whether to OK drilling for oil and natural gas off the California coast that was due Wednesday will be delayed until Aug. 16, the Interior Department announced. It said more time is needed to review the requests of companies that invested more than $1 billion in leasing 40 tracts off the state's central shoreline to begin operations, since the tracts are exempt from a 1998 Clinton administration ruling that bans new exploration there. The announcement was hailed by opponents of offshore drilling, among them the California Coastal Commission, new Gov. Gray Davis (D), and the state's two US senators.

In their search for a mutually satisfactory compromise, the chiefs of three major banks in France are to meet again today to try to settle their multibillion-dollar take-over fight, published reports said. Socit Gnrale and Paribas were proceeding with a $23.9 billion merger when, on March 10, Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) issued an unsolicited $37.2 billion offer to take over both. The BNP bid was rejected, and Socit Gnrale then upped its offer for Paribas. The reports said the compromise revolves around a holding company in which BNP and Socit Gnrale would carve up the operations of Paribas.

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