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Verizon, which twice thought it had won the bidding to acquire MCI, now has five business days to decide whether to counter a "superior" offer by rival Qwest - and, if so, how. MCI announced Saturday that despite its previous commitments to Verizon, it would accept Qwest's $9.9 billion bid after all, perhaps because of pressure from shareholders. Verizon could choose to raise its $7.8 billion offer, force a vote of MCI's stockholders, or could walk away and collect a $240 million breakup fee. Legally, MCI and Qwest cannot sign a merger agreement unless the contract with Verizon is terminated.

United Airlines won approval from the federal pension-protection agency late last week to eliminate its defined-benefit pension plans. The agreement could save the carrier $645 million a year, an amount it considers critical to securing the financing needed to emerge from bankruptcy. United declined to discuss details of the settlement with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which previously had opposed the move and now must assume responsibility for funding the plans. The union representing the carrier's 19,000 ground crewmen pledged to fight the decision in bankruptcy court and possibly by calling a strike.

Nasdaq and a partner followed the lead of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and announced that they are acquiring the electronic trading platform Instinet from Reuters for $1.9 billion. The co-investor, Silver Lake Partners of Menlo Park, Calif., already holds a stake in the online brokerage Ameritrade. Last week, the NYSE merged with Chicago electronic rival Archipelago.

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Lear Corp., a leading maker of seating, electronics, and other parts for car and truck interiors, said it will shift some operations to low-wage countries overseas. A spokesman for the Southfield, Mich., company declined to identify which US plants the company will close, telling the Detroit Free Press: "People's lives are going to be affected by this, and I really don't want to see it in the headlines."

Medtronic Inc. and Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon Gary Michelson agreed Friday to a $1.35 billion settlement of their legal battle over the latter's inventions in spinal- treatment technology. The Minneapolis medical device maker characterized the deal as "buying up a lot of royalties ... we were going to be making anyhow [and] legal fees we would have had." Michelson said he is considering using the award to set up a medical research foundation.

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