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Basketball sensation Yao Ming has dropped a lawsuit against Coca-Cola Co.’s China subsidiary after the beverage company stopped using his image on packaging and apologized for doing so without his permission. “This matter is over. We have to move on,” Xinhua’s Chinese-language service quoted Yao as saying. Yao, who has a sponsorship agreement with rival soft drink maker Pepsi-Cola, sought to block Coke from using his image after the company sold commemorative bottles showing Yao and two of his former colleagues from the Chinese national team. His lawsuit sought only a symbolic 1 yuan (12 U.S. cents) in damages. Yao also plays for the Houston Rockets of the NBA. The Xinhua News Agency said the agreement withdrawing the lawsuit from Shanghai’s Xuhui District Court was reached Thursday, more than three months after Coca-Cola (China) Beverages Ltd. stopped using Yao’s picture on its products. Coca-Cola released a statement from its global headquarters in Atlanta that it described as a “mediation agreement.” The company cited its sponsorship of China’s national team but acknowledged it was wrong for not asking Yao for permission first. “On the basis of the fact that Coca-Cola (China) Beverages Ltd did not seek Yao Ming’s consent in advance of its use of Yao Ming’s portrait and name on the packaging of its products, Coca-Cola (China) Beverages Ltd. apologizes to Yao Ming for such conduct,” the company said. It said the mediation statement was printed in Chinese media as part of the agreement. Calls by The Associated Press to Coca-Cola offices in China went unanswered Friday night. Coke said it had stopped producing and selling products bearing the pictures of Yao and fellow national team member Mengke Bateer and Guo Shiqiang in Chinese national team uniforms. The company said it stopped making the products on June 3 and stopped selling them on July 4. Coca-Cola’s China operation had earlier maintained it had the right to show groups of at least three members of the Chinese national team under its sponsorship agreement. Yao, a former player for the Shanghai Sharks of the China Basketball Association, remains popular in China and products with his image usually sell well — particularly in his hometown of Shanghai, China’s most populous city. Because of the settlement, a trial previously set for today has been canceled. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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