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Oil rises to fresh 9-month high near $109 in Asia


SINGAPORE (AP) — Oil prices rose to a fresh nine-month high near $109 a barrel Friday in Asia amid signs the U.S. economy is improving against a backdrop of elevated tensions in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear program.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 75 cents to $108.58 per barrel midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.55 to settle at $107.83 in New York on Thursday.

Brent crude was up 50 cents at $124.22 per barrel in London.

The government said Thursday that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits last week was unchanged and that the four-week average was the lowest in four years.

Traders brushed off evidence that crude demand in the U.S. remains weak. The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said Thursday crude inventories rose 1.6 million barrels last week and that oil demand has dropped 6.7 percent from a year ago.

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