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FTSE closes 0.2% down amid jitters over key elections in France and Germany

The FTSE 100 closed in the red as e lection jitters and comments from European Central Bank (ECB) boss Mario Draghi dragged on European stocks.

London's blue chip index ended the day lower by 0.2% or 16.15 points at 7,172.15.

It reflected losses across continental markets including the French Cac 40, which fell 0.98%, and the German Dax, which dropped 1.2%.

Investors abandoned stocks ahead of key leadership elections in Germany and France, which could shake up the political status quo.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: "European markets have really struggled to make any headway today with investors once again reluctant to try their luck against a backdrop of rising political risk.

"Narrowing opinion polls in Germany eroding Angela Merkel's lead, along with Marine Le Pen launching her bid for French president at the weekend, has seen European stocks roll over, and that's after the geopolitics surrounding US President Donald Trump."

Comments from ECB president Mr Draghi also sparked losses in European markets.

Mr Draghi, who appeared in front of legislators in Brussels, played down the recent climb in headline inflation, suggesting the bloc is still in need of stimulus including its existing bond purchases.

It sent the euro lower and bolstered the pound, which rose 0.25% to 1.160 euros.

But sterling weakened 0.3% against the US dollar to 1.24.

Investors abandoned riskier trades for safe haven assets like the US dollar and gold, which rose 0.7% to 1,229.79 US dollars (£987.08) per ounce.

Mining stocks made gains on the back of the climbing gold price. Fresnillo edged higher by 19p to 1,488p, and Glencore rose 1.3p to 310.8p.

In oil markets, Brent crude prices fell 1.4% to 55.97 US dollars (£44.94) per barrel as the stronger US currency made the commodity more expensive for overseas investors.

In UK stocks, Randgold Resources topped the FTSE 100, rising 285p to 7,145p, after reporting rising a 38% jump in profits to 294.2 million US dollars (£236.2 million) in 12 months to the end of December, as record production levels and a drop in costs helped bolster performance.

International Consolidated Airlines Group shares fell 10.4p to 474.3p as British Airways cabin crew continued to strike over pay. Workers are expected to stage another three-day walkout from Thursday.

The biggest risers on the FTSE 100 were Randgold Resources up 285p to 7,145p, Mediclinic International up 15.5p to 804p, Rolls-Royce Holdings up 9.5p to 680.5p, and Fresnillo up 19p to 1,488p.

The biggest fallers were International Consolidated Airlines Group down 10.4p at 474.3p, Tesco down 4.25p to 193.05p, Royal Bank of Scotland Group down 4.6p to 223.9p, and Sainsbury down 4.8p at 260p.

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