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French Officials Debate Bank Ruling

August 27, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ French banking authorities deliberated late into the night Friday, struggling to reach an agreement on whether Banque Nationale de Paris can keep shares won in its hostile bid for its unwilling target, Societe Generale.

The Committee of Credit and Investment Institutions, headed by Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet, has said it would make the long-awaited decision late Friday on whether BNP can keep its 37 percent Societe Generale stake.

A decision authorizing BNP to keep its stake would allow BNP to move further toward its goal of a three-way merger with Societe Generale and Paribas, which BNP already has acquired.

The proposed bank _ which BNP calls the SBP _ would be the biggest in Europe in terms of assets.

French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, interviewed on French television late Friday, took a neutral stance on the takeover battle.

``Whatever the outcome will be, it’ll be a good thing for French economy,″ Strauss-Kahn said on TF1 television.

Earlier Friday, several hundred Societe Generale employees demonstrated in front of the Bank of France headquarters in Paris, saying they feared the merger would lead to wage and job cuts.

The Societe General protesters, dressed in suits and ties, held up banners that said ``No to the BNP raid.″

Daniel Guegan, a union delegate from Societe Generale, said the merger could lead to cuts of up to 15,000 at the bank. ``This can’t be allowed,″ he said.

BNP launched a two-pronged, $37 billion hostile takeover for Societe Generale and Paribas in March. While BNP won control of Paribas, it obtained only a 37 percent stake of Societe Generale, leaving the final outcome with regulators.

BNP has claimed it has enough shares for effective control over Societe Generale. But Societe Generale has countered its rival has only enough shares to block decisions.

Paribas and Societe Generale had hoped to merge, but their plan was foiled when BNP launched its bid for both.

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