Oil turns mixed in Asian trade

SINGAPORE, March 16, 2011 (AFP) - World oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Wednesday as the crisis over an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan intensified.

Unrest in Middle East oil producer Bahrain also helped dampen sentiment, which had been cheered earlier in the day by a rebound in regional stocks from the previous day's massive sell-off.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, rose 14 cents to $97.32 per barrel, while Brent North Sea crude for April dipped 22 cents to $108.30 in the afternoon.

In Japan, a nuclear crisis deepened Wednesday with another fire at a quake-hit plant, fears a reactor containment vessel may have been damaged, and a brief spike in radiation that forced the temporary evacuation of workers.

Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano reported a sudden and brief rise in radiation levels at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant on Japan's northeast coast.

He said the likeliest explanation was an emission of radioactive steam from the containment vessel, although that had not been confirmed.

Popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt had been driving oil prices higher on concerns over supply disruptions.

Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, who is facing a bloody, month-old uprising, has vowed to crush the rebellion.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, shots rang out Wednesday as troops backed with armoured vehicles began clearing Manama's financial district of illegal road blocks, as handfuls of protesters offered little resistance.

Military helicopters circled overhead as the troops escorted a bulldozer into the Financial Harbour business complex, the centre of a regional finance hub that hosts major international banks and multinational corporations.

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