Oil supported by signs of US demand

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Tokyo - Oil prices were mixed in Asia on Friday as traders took a breather after recent gains, but signs of stronger US gasoline demand and escalating tensions in Ukraine provided support.

The US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in July, was down 21 cents to $103.37 a barrel after rallying 86 cents in Yew York on Thursday.

Brent North Sea crude for July gained four cents to $110.01 a barrel in mid-morning trade.

The US Department of Energy's weekly oil report on Thursday showed overall US inventories rising, but gasoline supplies falling in the week ended May 23.

Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, told AFP the decline in gasoline supplies suggested robust petrol demand going into the US summer driving season when Americans take to the roads for their holidays.

Traders are also tracking the escalating fighting between government troops and separatist rebels in Ukraine, a major pipeline conduit for Russia's natural gas exports to Europe.

In one of the biggest setbacks in Kiev's seven-week campaign against insurgents, 12 Ukrainian troops including an army general were killed Thursday when their helicopter was shot down.

The West has accused Russia of fomenting unrest in its neighbour since the ousting of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovich in February. Moscow denies the allegation.

Investors fear a full-blown conflict in the ex-Soviet state will disrupt supplies and send energy prices soaring. - AFP

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