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Oil prices rose Friday as the Ukraine crisis took a new twist and expectations rose for a solid increase in U.S. employment.
Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery was up 31 cents to $101.87 per barrel at 0720 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract rose 11 cents to close at $101.56. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 21 cents to $108.31 per barrel on the ICE exchange in London.
The U.S. government will release February employment figures later Friday. Hopes for a strong report were boosted after the Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people who filed for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months.
The unemployment claims report was one of the first bits of good news investors have had on the economy after weeks of data that showed the U.S. recovery slowing because of the severe winter.
Tension over Russia's military incursion into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula also underpinned oil prices.
Ukraine lurched toward breakup as lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days.
The U.S. moved to impose financial sanctions and travel restrictions on opponents of Ukraine's new government and the European Union also announced limited punitive measures against Russia including the suspension of trade and visa talks. Both Washington and the EU said they were discussing further sanctions.
In other energy futures trading on Nymex:
— Wholesale gasoline was up 0.2 cent at $2.947 per gallon.
— Heating oil added 0.6 cent to $2.989 per gallon.
— Natural gas dipped 2.3 cents to $4.639 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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