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    INTERNATIONAL NEWS

    Somerfield faces store sales threat.

    MANCHESTER, UK -- The new owner of 115 former Safeway stores was told yesterday that it may have substantially reduced competition in 14 retail areas of the United Kingdom.

    According to Manchester (UK) Online, Somerfield, which acquired the convenience stores from Safeway owner Morrisons last year, could now be forced to sell the sites.

    The Competition Commission said the provisional findings of a review into the deal identified 14 grocery markets where competition is expected to be reduced "resulting in higher prices or reductions in quality, range or service.”

    Somerfield and other interested parties now have until August 16 to respond to the study before the Competition Commission delivers its final verdict.

    Christopher Clarke, chairman of the Competition Commission inquiry, said: "We believe the only effective means of restoring competition in these areas is for the identified stores to be sold to a suitable grocery retailer who will offer choice and actively compete in the relevant local markets."

    Somerfield, which completed the transfer of the stores in March, is in the midst of a three-year program to refurbish the sites.

    The company said today: "Somerfield notes the provisional findings of the Competition Commission and will be making further representations both in writing and at the remedies hearing in early August."

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