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Asia stocks muted on Ukraine crisis

Asian stock markets were subdued after investors around the world took fright at how the crisis in Ukraine might escalate.

Oil prices settled somewhat after spiking by 2.3% yesterday on the possibility of Western sanctions against Russia for its military incursion into the Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Russia is one of the world's leading energy exporters.

Japan's Nikkei 225 was up 0.3% at 14,698.97 while China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.8% to 2,058.68. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4% to 1,957.60. In Taiwan, the Taiex dropped 0.3% to 8,581.29.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.4% to 22,591.97. Markets in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

"Asia is in wait and see mode with traders reluctant to commit to either direction until we get another headline or a bit more clarity on the Ukraine-Russia situation," said IG strategist Stan Shamu in a market commentary.

Developments in Ukraine have dominated the start of what is likely to be a busy week on the economic news front. As well as a raft of US economic data that culminates with Friday's nonfarm payrolls figures for February, investors have the monthly policy meeting from the European Central Bank to monitor.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index fell 13.72 points, or 0.7%, to 1,845.73, the biggest drop since February 3. The index was down as much as 25 points at one point before recouping some of the ground it lost. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 153.68 points, or 0.9%, to 16,168.03.

European markets tumbled even more sharply, with Moscow's RTS stock index sliding 12%.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 1.5 % at 6,708.35 while the CAC-40 in France fell 2.7% to 4,290.87. The retreat on Germany's DAX was even greater, largely because the country is reliant on Russian gas, with the index ending 3.4% lower at 9,358.89.

Benchmark US crude for April delivery was down 26 cents to 104.66 dollars in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped 2.33 dollars to close at 104.92 dollars a barrel yesterday.

In currencies, the euro inched down to 1.3735 dollars from 1.3736 dollars. The dollar rose to 101.71 yen from 101.54 yen.

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