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Asia stocks gain on China prospects, US data

By KAY JOHNSON

MUMBAI, India (AP) a¿¿ Asian stocks mostly rose Friday, buoyed by a third all-time high on a key Wall Street index this week and signs that China will follow up on pledges to further open the world's No. 2 economy,

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average added 0.4 percent to 15,201.57 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.65 point to 1,976.17. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.2 percent to 5,454.80 and Southeast Asia markets were mostly higher.

Investors have been encouraged by this week's meeting of China's top legislative body which pledged to advance Communist Party plans issued in November for promoting market forces and domestic consumption in Asia's economic engine.

China's Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.33 point at 2,059.91 and Taiwan's benchmark added 0.3 percent to 8,738.96. But Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.2 percent to 22,661.25.

India's Sensex index was up 0.7 percent to 21,662.22 as investors cheered the announcement of elections beginning next month.

The gains in Asian markets followed a mostly positive day on Wall Street after a report showed the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months.

The gains were enough to propel the Standard & Poor's 500 to its third all-time high this week, rising 0.2 percent to 1,877.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.71 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,421.89. The Nasdaq composite fell 5.85 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,352.13.

The focus in the U.S. is now on Friday's release of the February employment report. The payrolls data often set the market mood for a week or two.

European markets stabilized Thursday as tensions in Ukraine eased while the euro surged after traders reined in expectations of further easing measures from the European Central Bank.

Germany's DAX closed flat at 9,542.87 while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.6 percent to 4,417.04. Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent to 6,788.49 after the Bank of England kept its main interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent, five years on from its decision to cut to the historic low rate.

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