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Asia Stocks Weighed Down By Europe Debt Woes

By PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday as momentum carried over from yet another record high on Wall Street.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index closed at a record Thursday, driven by more encouraging data on the U.S. economic recovery. The government said the economy grew at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the October-December quarter, slightly better than previous estimates. The revision reflected stronger business investment and export sales.

South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 2,006.41. Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index added 0.4 percent to 2,244.79. Taiwan's TAIEX also advanced. Markets in Hong Kong, India, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore for holidays.

In Japan, however, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped marginally to 12,331.44 as the yen leveled off against the dollar and the government released figures for February showing the country's jobless rate edging up while industrial production fell slightly.

Newly appointed central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, has pledged to work with the government to end decades of growth-inhibiting deflation. His outspoken calls for action have raised hopes for results â¿¿ but analysts said they may also have created unrealistic expectations for a turnaround.

"Unfortunately, the markets' expectations of the new Governor are so high that they will be almost impossible to meet, let alone beat," said analysts at Capital Economics in a market commentary.

In Europe on Thursday, markets responded positively to the calm reopening of Cyprus's banks. Banks in the Mediterranean island nation were shut for nearly two weeks as the government negotiated a rescue loan from international lenders to prevent the financial system from collapsing. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares, Germany's DAX and France's CAC-40 all closed higher Thursday.

Italy's political uncertainty will also remain in the spotlight. Following inconclusive elections around a month ago, the country is still without a government, and that's raised concerns over its future economic path. Italy is the third-largest economy of the 17 countries that use the euro.

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