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Gold prices stood at their lowest since May 1979 in European trading as the British government - in the first of a controversial series of auctions - sold 25 tons of its reserves. The gold fetched just $261.20 an ounce - $1 below the prevailing market price - and the London fix fell to $256.20, with dealers predicting further losses. Over time, the Labour government hopes to unload 415 of Britain's 715 tons of reserves to increase its holdings of foreign currency, especially US dollars, yen, and euros. The move has brought a torrent of domestic and international criticism and was seen as having broad implications. The International Monetary Fund is proposing to sell 311 tons of its reserves to ease the debt burdens of the world's poorest nations. Switzerland also has announced plans to sell half of its 2,600-ton reserves beginning next year.

Cox Communications said it would swap its AT&T stock for cable-TV systems owned by the long-distance phone company in a $2.8 billion deal. Cox said the accord would enhance its position in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, making it the fifth-largest US cable company.

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