NEW YORK -- A federal judge this afternoon waved off objections of thousands of merchants groups and granted preliminary aproval to the $7.2 billion antitrust settlement from Visa, MasterCard and a handul of big banks.

The ruling came even after more than 1,200 merchants and trade associations asked the U.S. Judge John Gleeson to reject the deal, saying it does not go far enough to open the market for card fees. The merchants also say an indemnity provisions in the settlement would bar them from bringing future suits against Visa and MasterCard.

The antitrust deal, which would would settle a 2005 sut brought by retailers over credit card fees charged by Visa and MasterCard, could still be denied final approval by Judge Gleeson in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Or the merchants groups could appeal it to the next level.

In a hearing this afternoon Judge Gleeson called the merchants' objections "overstated."

After the ruling, the National Retail Federation, which represents hundreds of merchants including giants Wallmart and Target, issued a statement saying it will explore all options to block the landmark antitrust deal. "We do not believe the proposal meets the legal tests required to meet even preliminary approval," said Mallory Duncan, general counsel for the retail group. "We will consult with our attorneys and act as soon as possible to correct this injustice."

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