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Oil rises on US demand hopes; Ukraine, Libya concerns

Oil prices closed moderately higher, lifted by signs of improved US crude demand and geopolitical concerns ahead of Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday.

NEW YORK: Oil prices closed moderately higher on Friday, lifted by signs of improved US crude demand and geopolitical concerns ahead of Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday.

The US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in July, solidly topped $104 a barrel as traders prepared for the long US holiday weekend.

There will be no floor trading and no settlement on the New York Mercantile Exchange in observance of Memorial Day on Monday. Normal trading resumes Tuesday.

WTI finished the session at $104.35 a barrel, a gain of 61 cents from Thursday.

Brent North Sea crude for July rose 18 cents to settle at $110.54 a barrel in London trade.

Traders are betting on further declines in US crude inventories as refinery maintenance season ends in the coming two weeks, said Andy Lipow of Lipow Oil Associates.

Lipow said that Wednesday's bullish US Department of Energy report was continuing to support the market.

News of tumbling crude reserves in the United States, signalling improved demand in the world's largest crude consumer, on Wednesday pushed WTI to a one-month peak at $104.07, while Brent hit $110.55, the highest level in two-and-a-half-months.

The traditional start of the US summer driving season this holiday weekend also implied stronger consumption of gasoline.

Traders remained cautious as Ukraine faces a presidential election Sunday after six months of political crisis.

The Ukrainian authorities are mobilizing tens of thousands of police and volunteers to try to ensure security on polling day, although the pro-Russian separatists are threatening to disrupt the vote in areas under their control in the industrial east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday to respect the outcome of the election, but warned that the country had descended into all-out civil war after a bloody upsurge in separatist violence.

At least seven people were killed in fighting between rebels and defence forces outside the eastern industrial hub of Donetsk on Friday, a day after the deaths of 18 soldiers in the heaviest loss for the Ukraine military since the conflict began.

Political uncertainty in oil-rich Libya also was in focus. A renegade general's bid to rid the country of Islamists has alarmed oil investors fearing a further crippling of the embattled North African state's output, which has been stunted until recently due to rebel blockades.

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