Oil prices steady, Brent above $115

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Oil prices steadied on Friday at the end of a week dominated by concerns over unrest in Libya and the Middle East.

Traders also digested revised US growth data, which showed the economy grower faster than previously thought late last year, a key consideration as United States is the world's biggest oil-consuming nation.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May was up 20 cents to $115.92 a barrel in afternoon London deals.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for May, gained 25 cents to $105.85.

"The risk premium from the ... Libya fallout and jitters over Yemen is already priced in," said VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov, explaining why prices were holding around current levels after recent gains.

Oil traders have been making deals in recent days against a backdrop of anti-government protests that have spread across the Middle East and North Africa, with uprisings in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain after similar movements led to the recent ouster of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Libya, NATO late Thursday agreed to enforce a no-fly zone to stop Moamer Kadhafi's jets from attacking rebels while US, British and French planes continued to target his government's military resources.

Oil-rich Libya was producing 1.69 million barrels a day before the unrest but this has been virtually halted since.

"The main focus (for traders) remains on the ongoing political unrest in Libya, Yemen and Syria," said Myrto Sokou, an analyst at Sucden brokers.

"It was certainly a very volatile and unpredictable week with fairly nervous trading conditions across the commodities and equity markets."

Elsewhere Friday, official data showed the economy grew 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, up from the previous estimate of 2.8 percent.

Ahead of the data, the US government announced on Wednesday that US gasoline (petrol) stockpiles dived by 5.3 million barrels last week.

The market is closely following the level of gasoline reserves ahead of the summer driving season in the United States starting in May, when many Americans hit the roads on holiday, pushing up fuel demand.

© 2011 AFP

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