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Prospects for a $23.5 billion Pentagon plan to lease and purchase refueling tanker planes from Boeing were dealt another blow Friday by the Pentagon's inspector general, who said the deal should not go forward until procedural and financial problems are addressed. Joseph Schmitz, who has been looking into the deal since last year, when questions arose over ethical issues surrounding Boeing's pursuit of the contract, said the deal could cause the government to spend up to $4.5 billion more than necessary.

Airbus Industrie, Boeing's No. 1 rival, won a contract worth up to $1.3 billion to build 21 passenger jets for China Southern Airlines. The carrier's existing fleet of 125 planes was supplied mostly by Boeing.

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In another bow to low-carbohydrate dietary trends, McDonald's announced plans to offer bunless hamburgers and chicken patties at its US restaurants by early next month. Although customers have had the option of ordering patties without buns, a spokesman said late last week that the world's largest fast-food chain wanted a "consistent presentation." Patties will be available on a bed of lettuce in a small salad bowl and will cost the same as a sandwich. Early last month, McDonald's announced it was phasing out the "supersize" option on orders, including French fries and soft drinks.

Gateway Inc., the maker of desktop and portable PCs and network servers, closed 188 stores Friday, eliminating 2,500 jobs, or almost 40 percent of the company's work force. Gateway, which acquired eMachines earlier this year, decided on the closures after its brand began losing luster in competition with Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

As many as 650 jobs will be cut by regional supermarket chain Giant Food LLC as it merges operations with its larger sister company, Stop & Shop, a spokesman said. He said most of the positions affected would be in overlapping administrative areas such as information technology, accounting, and human resources. Giant operates 190 stores, most of them in metropolitan Washington and Baltimore, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia. Stop & Shop has more than 330 stores in southern New England, New York, and New Jersey. Both chains are subsidiaries of Royal Ahold NV, the troubled Dutch food-marketing conglomerate.


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