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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department moved Friday to speed up the Microsoft antitrust case, asking an appeals court to end the current phase and immediately send it back to a lower court to decide whether the software maker should be broken up.

The department said it does not intend to appeal to the Supreme Court at this time. Normally, the appeals court would have waited until at least mid-August for both sides to decide their next move.

“Whether or not Microsoft decides to seek a rehearing, the court has already devoted unusually extensive resources to this matter, including two days of oral argument,” said the court papers filed by the department and the 18 states suing the company.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler would not respond directly to the Justice Departments move, but said the company also hopes to go forward quickly.

“We share the goal of trying to get the remaining issues in this case resolved as quickly as possible,” Desler said. “This is a long and complex ruling and we intend to move forward promptly.”

Microsoft has until July 23 to file a response.

Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled that Microsoft had operated as an illegal monopoly and harmed consumers. But the court reversed the trial judge’s order breaking up the company, and sent the case back to a different lower court judge to decide a new penalty.

After the ruling, either side has the option of asking the appeals court to reconsider parts of the decision, appeal the entire ruling to the Supreme Court, settle, or go back to a lower court.

On Thursday, New Mexico reached a separate settlement with Microsoft.

Shares of Microsoft fell 26 cents to $71.34 in trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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