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Oil near $104 as traders weigh supplies, Ukraine

The price of oil remained near $104 a barrel Thursday as investors weighed the upheaval in Ukraine against a big increase in U.S. oil supplies.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was up 14 cents to $103.90 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Nymex contract rose 1 cent on Wednesday.

Trading was somewhat cautious ahead of a long weekend -- the market will be closed on Good Friday, one of only three days a year in which oil is not traded either electronically or through open outcry.

The market was otherwise contained by opposing influences.

Tensions remained over Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants clashed with Ukrainian forces in the country's east as authorities tried to reassert control over a region where some are pushing to secede and join Russia.

Officials from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union were meeting in Geneva on Thursday for negotiations aimed at persuading Russia to back off in Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea. Traders worry that Russia's actions could be met with sanctions that disrupt exports of the country's oil and gas.

But that upward impetus for oil prices was offset by the U.S. Energy Department's weekly supply report Wednesday. It showed an increase of 10 million barrels of crude oil, the largest in 13 years, on higher domestic production and imports.

"Crude oil stocks continue to build up, raising concerns about a possible slowdown in the U.S. oil demand," said Myrto Sokou at Sucden Financial Research in London. "However, the recent robust U.S. economic data seem to show signs of recovery in the U.S. market prospects."

Brent crude, an international benchmark for oil, was down 7 cents at $109.53 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading in New York:

- Wholesale gasoline fell 0.6 cent to $3.0103 a gallon.

- Natural gas was down 0.1 cent to $4.529 per 1,000 cubic feet.

- Heating oil dropped 0.62 cent to $2.9956 a gallon.

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