updated 4/1/2005 10:47:16 AM ET 2005-04-01T15:47:16

MCI Inc. decided to reopen merger talks with Qwest on Friday, just three days after the long-distance phone company agreed to a sweetened $7.5 billion buyout offer from Verizon and a day after Qwest raised its bid to nearly $9 billion.

The negotiations will be permitted until a shareholder vote is held by MCI on whether to accept or reject the deal with Verizon Communications Inc., MCI and Verizon said in separate statements.

"Verizon has a signed agreement with MCI that we believe will deliver superior value to MCI's shareholders," the Verizon statement said.

The new Qwest Communications International Inc. offer submitted Thursday values MCI at $27.50 per share, or $8.94 billion, in cash and Qwest stock. The Verizon deal, which replaced a $6.75 billion agreement reached in mid-February, values MCI at $23.10 per share.

MCI's stock has risen beyond the price set by the Verizon deal, suggesting investors expect that either Verizon will agree to pay more again, or that Qwest might pull off an upset in what's become the biggest telecom takeover battle in six years.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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