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There has been a significant slowdown in economic growth since April, after strong growth during the first quarter of 2005, according to a survey prepared by the Lahav umbrella organization for independent business people.

According to the survey, 26,000 businesses closed during the first half of 2005, an increase of 6 percent over the second half of 2004. Most of the business experiencing difficulties were small and medium-sized businesses outside of the Dan and Haifa regions.

Lahav president Ze'ev Weiner said yesterday it appeared that this negative trend would continue in the second half of 2005. He said sectors with the most troubles were restaurants, gardening firms, gyms, beauty salons, organizations providing after-school activities for children and home repair businesses. Weiner said an important factor in the downturn was people taking longer to pay their bills.