Asahi Bank Ltd. and Tokai Bank Ltd. said Thursday they are accelerating their scheduled merger to October 2000, from April 2001. The move will create the nation's third-largest bank.

The announcement comes on the heels of news in August that three other leading Japanese banks would merge to create the world's largest bank in terms of assets. It reflects the increasing pressure on the nation's financial companies to stay competitive as the government deregulates the industry.

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