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Updated from 3:32 a.m. EST



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will reduce its stake in the Japanese automaker to 3.5% from 11%.

Mazda, in a statement Thursday, said the remaining 7.5% stake will be transferred to its business partners.

Mazda said the two automakers have agreed to continue their strategic partnership.

"Ford will remain one of Mazda's largest shareholders with a 3.5% stake, and both companies are committed to continuing our strategic partnership which spans over 30 years," said Takashi Yamanouchi, Mazda chairman and CEO. "Mazda and Ford will continue to collaborate on areas of mutual benefit such as key joint ventures, joint projects and exchange of technology information."

Mitsui Sumitomo Bank

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, already a major investor in Mazda, and Japanese trading conglomerate Itochu are reported to be among the buyers of the Mazda stake, the

Associated Press

says, citing Japanese media reports.

Ford gives up the position of top stakeholder it has held in Mazda for 31 years. The biggest shareholder in Mazda after Ford is

Chase Manhattan

, which owns 7%, the

Associated Press


-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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Joseph Woelfel

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