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JFE Steel Corp. said Thursday it will temporarily shut down one of its blast furnaces in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, from mid-January to combat a sharp slowdown in steel demand from automakers.

JFE will become the first major Japanese steelmaker to take the rare move of closing down a blast furnace as a result of the fallout from the worldwide financial crisis. Other steelmakers have tried to control production levels through slowing down their operations.

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