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Asia: Shares slip, protests hit Hong Kong

[HONG KONG] Asian markets slipped Friday with Hong Kong tumbling more than one per cent as investors returned from a two-day break to find major parts of the financial hub still shut down by pro-democracy protestors.

The dollar edged up against the yen after sinking on Thursday from a six-year high above 110 yen while the euro enjoyed some relief after the European Central Bank refrained from unveiling any new measures to combat deflation.

Hong Kong, which was closed for two days of public holidays, fell 1.10 per cent in opening exchanges, while Tokyo was down 0.19 per cent at the break and Sydney was flat.

Shanghai, Mumbai and Seoul were closed for holidays.

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As the demonstrations in Hong Kong moved into a sixth day its chief executive refused demands to resign and held out the hope of compromise by saying he will talk to protest leaders.

The campaign for full universal suffrage has led to the closure of some of the city's busiest thoroughfares and comes during the Chinese Golden Week holiday when cashed-up mainlanders usually visit its numerous shopping outlets.

The Hang Seng Index, which lost more than three percent over Monday and Tuesday, was closed for the next two days for holidays. Dealers were playing catch-up Friday after a broad global sell-off in that time.

Among those hardest hit were HSBC, which lost 1.9 per cent, while Standard Chartered bank slipped 2.8 per cent. However, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said a number of bank branches in the city had reopened after being shuttered at the start of the week.

Wall Street's three main indexes were soft as investors sat back ahead of the release of a key US jobs report later in the day, which could provide a clearer handle of the Federal Reserve's plans for interest rates.

Japan's Nikkei pared initial losses as the yen weakened slightly against the dollar.

The greenback - which broke 110 yen Wednesday for the first time in more than six years - fetched 108.80 yen in early Friday trade, against 108.42 yen in New York.

An ECB decision to stand firm on its monetary policy lifted the euro, which earlier in the week had fallen below US$1.26 for the first time since September 2012.

The bank held rates at record lows and said it would start buying covered bond and asset-backed securities in a bid to pump money into the eurozone economy and fan inflation.

In early Tokyo trade the euro bought US$1.2655 and 137.74 yen against US$1.2667 and 137.34 yen.

On Wall Street the Dow and S&P 500 were and the Nasdaq added 0.18 per cent.

Oil prices were up. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for November delivery rose 19 cents to US$91.20 while Brent crude for November gained 21 cents to US$93.63.

Gold was at US$1,212.58 an ounce against US$1,213.50 late Thursday. - AFP

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