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Shares rise as Ukraine tensions continue to ebb

TOKYO/HONG KONG--Shares rose ahead of a monthly policy meeting of the European Central Bank on Thursday as easing tensions in the Ukraine kept markets stable after their recent bout of volatility.

Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.3 percent to 6,797.14 and Germany's DAX added 0.4 percent to 9,577.35. The CAC-40 in France rose 0.6 percent to 4,416.72. Wall Street looked poised for gains, with both Dow futures and S&P 500 futures up 0.2 percent.

Few economists think the ECB will ease policy further, given recent upbeat economic data for the 18-country euro currency union.

Investor sentiment overall has improved as the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine continued to ease.

In Asia, markets rose Thursday as Western and Russian leaders try to broker a deal to end the Ukraine crisis, while Wall Street provided a tepid lead following an anemic batch of economic data.

As the threat of an armed conflict in Eastern Europe has subsided, investor confidence in higher risk assets has slowly returned, sending the safe-haven yen falling against the dollar and euro.

Tokyo jumped 1.59 percent, or 237.12 points, to finish at 15,134.75 and Seoul was 0.22 percent higher, adding 4.38 points to 1,975.62, while Shanghai gained 0.32 percent, or 6.49 points, to 2,059.58.

Hong Kong rose 0.55 percent, or 123.19 points, to 22,702.97 while Sydney was almost unchanged, edging down 0.33 points to 5,445.9.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris on Wednesday for the first time since the crisis began, and while no breakthrough was made both sides will try again later Thursday in Rome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke on the phone about “possible scenarios for international co-operation” to end a confrontation that has raised fears of all-out conflict and sent global markets tumbling at the start of the week.

With diplomacy now taking center stage over Ukraine, traders were able to focus again on economics. On Wall Street, the three main indexes ended mixed following below-forecast jobs data.

US Jobs Data Disappoint

Payrolls firm ADP said U.S. private businesses added just 139,000 jobs in February, below the average of 186,000 over the prior 12 months and below expectations for 150,000.

While the soft data was blamed in part on severe winter weather and job losses in financial services, the news has raised fears about the closely watched government non-farm payrolls report due on Friday.

Adding to the bad news, the Institute for Supply Management said the harsh weather was partly to blame for the key U.S. services sector expanding at its slowest pace in three years in February.

However, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book survey of the economy said that while the January-February freeze had hit activity, the outlook in most areas “remained optimistic,” while growth was broadly “modest to moderate.”

The regional review is used by Fed officials to set monetary policy, and economists hope to get some idea about whether the bank will further cut its stimulus program when its policy board meets later this month.

Gold fetched US$1,335.26 an ounce at 1100 GMT compared with US$1,333.97 late Wednesday.

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