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The $7.7 billion hostile takeover saga involving software producers Oracle and PeopleSoft took a dramatic new turn Friday when the latter abruptly fired its chief executive. A PeopleSoft board member said he and his colleagues had "lost confidence" in Craig Conway, who'd held the post since 1999, and that the dismissal had nothing to do with the 16-month takeover battle Conway had worked fiercely to block. But industry analysts and investors saw the situation differently. They speculated that the move - coupled with a decision a few hours later by the Justice Department not to appeal a federal district court OK of Oracle's planned takeover - now means that a merger is inevitable. "The only question," one analyst told the Associated Press. "is timing and price." Conway had served as Oracle's sales chief before joining PeopleSoft, and his opposition to the merger was seen in industry circles as due to a personality conflict with Oracle chief Larry Ellison. Conway was replaced by David Duffield, who cofounded PeopleSoft in 1987 and remains its board chairman and largest shareholder.

In a deal valued at $1.9 billion, pharmaceutical giant UCB SA of Belgium agreed Friday to sell its chemicals division to Cytec Industries, a West Paterson, N.J., maker of composites, coatings, and other materials for the aerospace, automotive, and water-treatment industries. The cash and stock transaction lifts Cytec to 16th place among US chemical companies in terms of revenue.

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Union negotiators representing 3,000 pilots at bankrupt US Airways, adjourned discussions Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., on whether to recommend approval of a proposed contract. A spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association said the pact would cut average pay by 18 percent, with concessions over five years adding up to $1.8 billion. The union, which is considering what would be the third concession to the company since 2002, will resume meeting Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Aluminum industry giant Alcoa rescinded layoff notices to about 400 employees at its smelter in Wenatchee, Wash., after reaching a tentative agreement with two unions late last week. The notices were issued in July and were to take effect on or about Oct. 1. But the jobs may be spared if plant workers agree to the company's final offer to pay 10 pecent of their healthcare insurance premiums.