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BRUSSELS (AP) – Microsoft Corp. said Thursday that it has canceled its defense hearing against EU antitrust charges because senior regulators won’t be able to attend.

The software giant was due to present its defense at a June 3-5 hearing to counter charges that tying the Internet Explorer browser to its Windows operating system gives it an unfair advantage over rivals such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera and Google’s Chrome.

The date clashes with a major antitrust conference in Zurich, Switzerland. Microsoft said in a blog post that after the European Commission turned down its request to reschedule, the software maker decided not to proceed with the hearing.

Microsoft repeated its request for a new date and hinted that it might have a case to complain to EU courts that its rights to a fair defense have been denied.

“We believe that holding the hearing at a time when key officials are out of the country would deny Microsoft our effective right to be heard and hence deny our ‘rights of defense’ under European law,” said Dave Heiner, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel.

EU spokeswoman Helen Kearns said “the commission couldn’t see any reason to postpone.”

Microsoft said the EU claimed that the dates were the only time a suitable room would be available for the hearing and had declined Microsoft’s offer to hold it elsewhere.

Antitrust hearings are confidential and held in a Brussels building that only EU officials and national diplomats are allowed to access.

Last month, Microsoft submitted a written response to the charges that could see regulators add new fines to the euro1.7 billion the company has already been ordered to pay in a long-running antitrust battle.

Internet Explorer is the world’s most widely used Web-surfing software.

EU regulators have suggested that Windows carry other browsers to open up competition, but Microsoft says it is unclear how this would work or who would choose the browsers that would have automatic access to hundreds of millions of consumers.

The next version of Windows will contain a feature to shut off – but not delete – the browser should users want to stick to an alternative.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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