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The U.K. government blocked Britain's third-largest bank, Lloyds TSB Group, from paying $27.9 billion to acquire mortgage lender Abbey National PLC, arguing the deal would reduce competition and drive up prices in the banking industry. The long-awaited announcement by the Department of Trade and Industry was a major setback to Lloyds, which had made three separate offers for Abbey. Analysts said the decision effectively ends for now any prospect of takeovers among the UK's big four banks.

Alcatel, the French telecommunications giant, will cut another 2,500 jobs in its US operations because of an ongoing slump in telecom equipment sales. The news brings Alcatel's total cuts in the US to nearly 4,700 this year - more than a fourth of its US workforce. A spokesman said the latest layoffs will span management and manufacturing ranks and will occur mostly at the firm's US headquarters in Plano, Texas, and in Raleigh, N.C.

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In another blow to online grocery shopping, Webvan, one of the US's highest-profile Internet businesses, said it will file for bankruptcy protection and lay off 2,000 workers. The company spent more than $800 million in two years without turning a profit, and reportedly absorbed $10 to $15 in delivery costs per order in trying to offer competitive prices. Other Web grocery operations to fold, merge, or regroup include Streamline, HomeGrocer, and Peapod. Less than 1 percent of Americans bought groceries online in the past year, according to Jupiter Media Metrix.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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