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Major baby-food supplier Royal Numico said it will pay $1.75 billion in cash for Pittsburgh's General Nutrition Companies (GNC). Executives of the Dutch group said the merger would result in the world's largest company devoted exclusively to nutrition. GNC, which operates 4,000 stores in the US and other countries, announced last month it was buying an 8 percent stake in, an online prescription retailer.

Only hours after the announcement of a hostile takeover bid by French oil giant TotalFina for rival Elf Aquintaine, the proposed deal was given a major boost by the government in Paris. It indicated it would not use its financial stake in Elf Aquintaine to block the $43 billion takeover because the national interest was not threatened. Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn said a TotalFina-Elf Aquintaine merger was "a good thing" because it would keep France's oil supply out of "American and Anglo-Saxon hands."

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