* Britain's Independent newspaper, which saw itself as a loner amid big media alliances, has hitched up with the tabloid Mirror and two European newspapers in a marriage of convenience to avoid getting left on the shelf.

The paper, launched in 1986 with such haughty disregard for the way other papers did things that it ignored stories about Britain's royal family and cut itself off from chummy parliamentary briefings, was forced into the match last week by flagging sales and lack of cash to woo new readers.

Two of the papers which will now effectively have control of The Independent and its stablemate, The Independent on Sunday, are longtime backers. El Pais of Spain and La Repubblica of Italy have stood by The Independent for the past four years.

They have poured nearly $48 million into The Independent since 1990, seeking to shore it up as readers who first fell in love with the paper got bored, industry sources said. But it is the other new marriage partner, the left-leaning tabloid Mirror Group, which is expected to dominate.

The Mirror, which has dragged itself back from the brink of collapse following the death of proprietor Robert Maxwell in 1991, originally set its heart on 40 percent of Newspaper Publishing, parent of the two Independents.

Journalists at the papers say they do not trust the Mirror's hard-nosed chief executive David Montgomery not to fire staff and to respect editorial independence. But sources at the Mirror-Pais-Repubblica consortium said the unique shareholding structure - several trade partners rather than one omnipotent proprietor - would allay such fears. The consortium is also backed by three Independent founders.

Under the terms of a twice-revised takeover bid made by the consortium, valuing Newspaper Publishing at $112 million, the Mirror will have between 25 and 30 percent of the group and the Spanish and Italians at least 37 percent.

Founder and Independent editor Andreas Whittam Smith will become chairman and the sources expected a new chief executive to be appointed, replacing former Mirror managing director Patrick Morrissey.

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