WASHINGTON - A coalition of more than two dozen community groups has protested Fleet Financial Group's planned merger with Shawmut National Corp., charging that the bank ignores low-income communities in upstate New York.

"Fleet has offered far fewer products, relatively fewer loans, and has generally been strikingly less focused on its communities in New York State then in other states in which it operates," the New York State Reinvestment Alliance said in its Sept. 12 protest under the Community Reinvestment Act.

It cited Fleet's failure to offer its no-fee mortgage in New York, even though the bank operates 335 branches there with more than $14 billion in assets. The group also charged that Fleet redlines minority sections of Syracuse.

Fleet officials, whose banks earned either satisfactory or outstanding CRA grades, said the charges are full of holes.

"Fleet and Shawmut have very strong lending records in New York State and a proven track record," Fleet spokeswoman Meg Pier said.

Fleet offers a variety of flexible home mortgage projects, include one allowing the seller to pay closing costs and another allowing high loan-to- value ratios.

Matthew Lee, the executive director of the Bronx-based Inner City Press/Community on the Move, said the group will demand specific reinvestment commitments for various parts of the state.

However, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly endorsed the merger in a Sept. 7 letter to Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Fleet and Shawmut hope to consummate their $3.65 billion merger by yearend. The resulting bank would control more than $81 billion in assets in six states.

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