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11,484.66

UP 7.95

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VS. JAPANESE YEN

102.10 YEN

DOWN 0.41

Freei Networks of Federal Way, Wash., is expected to announce today that it will launch a free and anonymous Internet access service in five Southeast Asian countries, the first major U.S. firm to give away service in that region. Analysts say Freei's move poses a special challenge for Dulles-based America Online, as U.S. subscriber growth is slowing while growth in other parts of the world, especially Asia and Latin America, takes off. Barely a year old, privately held Freei has grown dramatically and now has more than 1 1/2 million U.S. customers.

Computer Sciences' federal sector defense group in Falls Church won a 10-year, $680 million contract to modernize the Army's wholesale logistics program. Much of the work will take place at Army facilities in Chambersburg, Pa., and St. Louis. The company said it will offer employment to all government workers displaced as a result of the contract award.

A California judge denied an electronics industry group's bid to temporarily halt distribution of software that removes security encryption from DVD videos. The DVD Copy Control Association is suing to prevent 72 Web site programmers from making the software available on the Internet. Without comment, the judge denied the request for a restraining order. The case is to go to court Jan. 14.

The index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent, to 108.3, in November, a 40-year high. The index is designed to predict economic activity over the next three to six months.

CBS and Viacom shareholders overwhelmingly approved the companies' proposed $36 billion merger, clearing the way for federal regulators to make a decision on the largest media combination in history. The merger would run up against government restrictions on the percentage of the national audience that one company may reach through its owned TV stations. Another rule bars a company from owning more than one TV network in certain combinations.

Fruit of the Loom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after reporting five straight quarters of losses. It will finance its reorganization with a $625 million loan from Bank of America. The firm said it had $258.3 million in assets and $72.3 million in debt. Analysts said the company's debt made it hard to move manufacturing overseas to cut costs.

Metropolitan Life's offer to pay policyholders $1.7 billion to settle three class-action lawsuits was approved by a federal judge. The suits accused Met Life of talking people into buying insurance policies by presenting them as retirement or savings plans. About 7 million policyholders are affected.

Northwest Airlines said it will give tickets for free travel to passengers who were stranded for more than three hours on a plane on a Minneapolis runway this week. The carrier is still seeking to recover from an incident last winter when passengers were stranded for hours at Detroit's snowbound airport with no food, water or working toilets.

Municipal bond trades will be reported in more detail starting in mid-January, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board said. The reports will include details of all trades in bonds for which there were four or more trades a day, instead of the high, low and average prices now reported.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Telebanc Financial shareholders approved the Arlington firm's proposed merger with California-based E-Trade Group. The $1.8 billion transaction is subject to regulatory approval. The companies said E-Trade will integrate Telebanc's Internet-based, federally insured cash management account into its services.

Magellan Health Services of Columbia released details about a previously disclosed Justice Department investigation of Charter psychiatric hospitals, in which Magellan holds a 10 percent stake. Magellan said in a report to the SEC that the probe is nationwide and involves possible denials of medically necessary care and potential violations of a law used to prosecute fraud.