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BUS BRIEFS Economy growing at faster pace

WASHINGTON -- The economy grew at a faster pace this spring than previously thought, but was at its weakest level in more than a year, providing political ammunition to both candidates in the final weeks of the presidential race.

The 3.3 percent annual growth rate of gross domestic product in the April-June period was stronger than the 2.8 percent pace estimated last month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. GDP is the country's total output of goods and services.

Still, the improvement was significantly lower than the first quarter's 4.5 percent annual rate.

The second-quarter boost to the nearly $11.7 trillion economy came from expanded business inventories and investments, an increase in imports and a drop in exports.

Oil prices fall

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WASHINGTON -- Oil prices fell Wednesday after government data showed U.S. inventories of crude grew last week, surprising many traders and analysts who had expected supplies to shrink due to lingering output problems caused by Hurricane Ivan.

Contributing to the drop in prices was word of a tentative agreement between the Nigerian government and the leader of a militia group that had threatened to target foreign oil firms and their workers.

Light sweet crude for November delivery fell 39 cents to settle at $49.51 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising above $50 a barrel Tuesday.

U.S. oil giant makes deal with Lukoil

MOSCOW -- U.S. oil giant ConocoPhillips Inc. agreed to pay nearly $2 billion Wednesday for the Russian government's remaining 7.6 percent stake in Lukoil, the world's No. 2 oil company -- a deal expected to clear the way for joint ventures in Siberia and Iraq, while allaying broader concerns about the Kremlin's commitment to foreign investment.

The transaction, Russia's biggest privatization to date, also lays the groundwork for ConocoPhillips to eventually own 20 percent of Lukoil.

Microsoft's battle in Europe goes public

LUXEMBOURG -- Microsoft Corp.'s five-year legal battle in Europe moves into a public courtroom for the first time as the software giant tries to get the European Union's landmark antitrust ruling against it lifted.

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The hearing that opens today in the EU's second highest court focuses solely on Microsoft's request for the suspension, pending appeal, of EU orders that would force major changes in its business practices.

The European Commission found Microsoft guilty in March of abusing its dominant position with the Windows operating system, which runs some 90 percent of computers worldwide.

Top count against Tyco execs abandoned

NEW YORK -- Prosecutors have decided to abandon the charge of enterprise corruption, the top count against former Tyco International Ltd. executives L. Dennis Kozlowski and Mark H. Swartz, when the two are retried in January.

Kozlowski, Tyco's former chief executive, and Swartz, the former chief financial officer, were accused of looting Tyco of some $600 million. Their first trial lasted six months and ended in a mistrial in April after a juror received improper contact by letter and telephone.

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