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Verizon said it would back off from merger plans with MCI for two weeks so the latter can discuss a more generous offer from Qwest Communications. Qwest, the local phone company for most of the Rocky Mountains and Northwest, has questioned whether its proposal "truly received an extensive review." Qwest bid $8 billion for MCI - $1.2 billion more than the offer by Verizon, which dominates the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Some analysts consider Verizon the more financially secure of the suitors. But Qwest has tried to impress MCI investors with plans to generate more cost savings (by cutting up to 15,000 jobs) than Verizon.

Executives of the troubled National Hockey League confirmed - but refused to comment on - published reports that it has received a takeover proposal in excess of $3 billion from two Boston investors. The Toronto Star and the Toronto Globe and Mail said Bain Capital Partners LLC and Game Plan International, the latter identified as a "sports advisory company," outlined the plan to the NHL's board of governors at the invitation of commissioner Gary Bettman. The proposal calls for the league, whose 2004-2005 season was canceled due to a labor dispute between team owners and the players' union, to be operated retail-style, as a single company with 30 franchises. An unidentified Canadian financier also would join the Bain-Game Plan consortium, the Star reported.

General Motors announced details of the so-called "Beacon Project" to transform its automaking operations in Canada. The company said it will invest $2 billion in training, research and development, design, and environmental initiatives. The amount represents what Ontario provincial officials called the biggest and most comprehensive cash infusion in Canadian automotive history and will be matched by about a half-billion-dollar contribution from the Ontario and federal governments. Last fall, Ford outlined a similar - although less costly - initiative.

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Titan Corp., which provides military and security communication and computer services, admitted to bribery and will pay a $28.5 million fine to settle a federal probe into the matter, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Financial Times reported. Titan was accused of funneling cash into a presidential campaign in the African nation of Benin in exchange for more favorable terms in the management of a telephone system there. The penalty is the largest yet imposed under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The scandal and resulting investigation scuttled the buyout last year of Titan by Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense contractor.

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