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Oil prices edge up

Oil prices moved modestly higher on Friday as the market found support from US gasoline demand hopes ahead of the looming summer-holiday driving season and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

NEW YORK: Oil prices moved modestly higher on Friday as the market found support from US gasoline demand hopes ahead of the looming summer-holiday driving season and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

The US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in June, closed at $102.02 a barrel, a gain of 52 cents from Thursday.

Brent North Sea crude for July rose 66 cents to settle at $109.75 a barrel in London.

Oil prices were finding support from the approaching US summer holiday season that kicks off with the long Memorial Day weekend May 24-26.

"The driving season is right around the corner on Memorial Day and we expect increased demand for gasoline across the summer," said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates.

Refineries were beginning to wind down their maintenance season in preparation for a ramp-up in activity in several days, he noted.

Total US gasoline inventories fell by 800,000 barrels, or 0.4 per cent, last week and were down 0.1 per cent from a year ago, according to the Department of Energy.

For Tim Evans of Citi Futures, global oil prices showed "some resilience" in the face of a weaker than expected report on US consumer sentiment for May and a surprisingly powerful 13.2 per cent jump in April housing starts that was driven by the volatile multi-family units sector.

Traders kept an eye on the unfolding Ukraine crisis. The United Nations warned Friday of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern Ukraine, where the government is battling an insurgency by armed pro-Russian separatists.

"The political uncertainty in Ukraine continues to dominate the oil market, providing further support to crude oil prices," said analyst Myrto Sokou at the Sucden brokerage.

With the May 25 presidential vote fast approaching, Kiev's interim leaders are struggling to keep the country from disintegrating further after Russia's disputed annexation of Crimea in March.

Escalation of the conflict could severely disrupt energy supplies and send prices soaring, analysts say, because Ukraine is a vital conduit for Russian oil and gas exports to Europe. Nearly 15 per cent of all gas consumed in Europe is delivered via Ukraine.

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