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The number of oil and gas rigs operating in the US fell to the lowest level since Houston-based toolmaker Baker Hughes Inc. began keeping track in 1944. Last week's rig count of 588 - below the previous low of 596 set in June 1992 - was another bad sign for the struggling oil business. During the same week last year, 996 rigs were operating.

Northwest Airlines, the fourth-largest US carrier, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers agreed on a tentative four-year contract. It covers about 18,000 Northwest ticket-counter clerks and other clerical workers, airline and union officials said. A vote on ratifying the pact was expected this week.

US and European Union officials were discussing a last-minute compromise to try to avert a trade war over bananas, diplomats said. Details of the proposal by World Trade Organization chief Renato Ruggiero were not announced. At the heart of the row are EU rules that favor bananas from former European colonies in the Caribbean over those grown in Latin America for US exporters such as Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita.

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