CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Justice Department on Tuesday gave First Union Corp. and Wachovia Corp. clearance to proceed with their planned merger. The Federal Trade Commission, which makes these announcements, said the companies were granted early termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. The deal still awaits other regulatory approvals as well as shareholder consent.

Meanwhile, hostile bidder SunTrust Banks Inc. continued its battle to win over Wachovia shareholders, filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday the text of what a SunTrust spokesman called a “fight letter” it plans to send them in advance of its proxy materials.

In the letter, SunTrust chairman and chief executive L. Phillip Humann urges Wachovia shareholders to reject the First Union deal.

SunTrust Banks Inc. won another round late Monday when a North Carolina judge refused to dismiss its lawsuit challenging the First Union-Wachovia agreement.

The Atlanta company, which wants to halt the merger and pursue its own deal with Wachovia, sued over what it calls “egregious” breakup provisions in the North Carolina companies’ agreement. After a hearing, North Carolina Business Court Judge Ben F. Tennille declined a motion by First Union and Wachovia to dismiss SunTrust’s suit.

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