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South Korea Passes New Law to Boost Financial Sector

South Korea is trying to boost its financial industry with a new law and Australia's second-largest retailer will soon be the country's largest after it accepted a long-awaited takeover bid. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from the region.

South Korea passed a new law aimed at helping the country become a regional financial services center. The 'capital market consolidation act' lifts regulatory barriers between different financial sectors. The government hopes the bill, which will take effect in 2009, will lead to the emergence of large multi-service investment banks.

In Australia, the board of retailer Coles accepted a $19 billion takeover offer from Wesfarmers, paving the way for the largest takeover in Australian corporate history. Wesfarmers is a Perth-based mining, insurance and industrial conglomerate. Its managing director Richard Goyder told Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the endorsement of the offer ends a long period of ownership uncertainty for Coles.

"What I expect, we'll see internally some early wins as the ownership uncertainty is lifted from the business and as people align to what we're trying to do," he said. "There's some initiatives that Coles already has in place around supply chain and some simplification of the businesses that we will be accelerating where we can."

China's biggest oil company, China National Petroleum Corporation, signed a new exploration agreement with Sudan. Indonesia's Pertamina and Sudan's state-owned Sudapet are CNPC's partners in the development of the offshore oil block in the Red Sea. Sudan is one of China's main oil suppliers. Human rights activists accuse Beijing of failing to use its influence on Khartoum to help stop violence in the Darfur region.

Indonesia signed an agreement with the International Civil Aviation Organization to improve air safety after a series of accidents this year. Earlier this month, the European Union banned all 51 Indonesian airlines from European airspace for safety concerns.

Indonesia is one of the world's largest tobacco markets, but 90 percent of Indonesian smokers favor kreteks - locally manufactured cigarettes that blend tobacco with cloves and give off a distinctive sweet aroma. To cater to local tastes, U.S. tobacco-company Philip Morris launched a new cigarette brand flavored with cloves. The cigarettes, called Marlboro Mix 9 will hit Indonesian stores this week. Last year, Philip Morris bought a controlling stake in local tobacco company Sampoerna. It was Indonesia's largest takeover deal ever by a foreign investor.