"France's Vivendi said Sunday it was holding a news conference with British-U.S. phone operator Vodafone Airtouch on a ``major strategic accord in telecoms and the Internet.''
"The conference, jointly hosted by Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier and Vodafone Chief Executive Chris Gent, would follow an extraordinary board meeting at Vivendi, according to French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche Sunday.
"It looked set to answer feverish market speculation on if, when and how the French conglomerate would move to seal a European telecoms deal, with the outcome of Vodafone's hostile bid for Germany's Mannesmann eight days away.
"Analysts have said a tie-up between Vodafone, Britain's leading mobile operator, and utilities and media conglomerate Vivendi would likely indicate that Vodafone is confident its bid for German mobile leader Mannesmann will succeed.
"Gent, who has said a ``shadow book'' of investors -- a common method of tallying investors' intentions -- showed his bid for Mannesmann should succeed, said last week he was talking to Vivendi about an Internet and media alliance involving the French company's Web portal and its pay-TV unit Canal Plus.
"Mannesmann was not available for comment Sunday.
"Vivendi's board met Friday to discuss deals with possible allies amid reports it had frozen negotiations with Mannesmann -- possibly over a white knight rescue -- but was keen to seal an accord with either Vodafone or British Telecom.
"Messier confirmed after that meeting that Vivendi was in talks to create Europe's first integrated telecoms and Internet company. An integral part of this future multimedia mega-firm would be V.net, a 50-50 joint venture between Vivendi's Internet activities and its pay TV group Canal Plus unveiled Friday.
"He said any deal must be able to develop ``a truly European multimedia portal and access to the largest subscriber base.
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