WASHINGTON - Putting the brakes on Fleet Financial Group Inc.'s merger with Shawmut National Corp., the Federal Reserve Board said Thursday that it will subject the combination to three public hearings next month.

The Fed extended the deadline for written comments on the merger by 60 days, to Sept. 12.

Though it did not reveal any specific concerns about Fleet or Shawmut, it said the public hearings were designed to gather information on "the convenience and needs of the communities to be served by this proposal."

The Fed also noted that it will review how well Fleet and Shawmut have fulfilled their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act. Fleet's lead bank in Providence, R.I., and Shawmut's lead Boston-based bank both are rated "satisfactory" under the law.

The hearings will be held Aug. 26 in Boston; Aug. 28 in Hartford, Conn.; and Aug. 29 in Albany.

The Fed said requests for opportunities to testify would have to be received by Aug. 16.

The central bank rarely holds public hearings on mergers. The last one was in January 1992, when BankAmerica Corp. was acquiring Security Pacific Corp.

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