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Australia shares rise on higher oil prices; NZ edges up too

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares finished at a fresh two-year high on Tuesday, as a rally in global oil prices continued to push energy stocks higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.3 per cent up, or 16.416 points, to 5,929.3.

The benchmark rose 0.9 per cent up on Monday.

Crude oil climbed to a five-week high on Tuesday, underpinned by a shutdown at Libya's largest oilfield over the weekend and on uncertainty over Syria.

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The Libyan outage added fuel to a rally that started late last week after the United States fired missiles at a Syrian government air base.

Australia's energy index rose for a third straight day and closed at its highest level in 19 months.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd was the sub-index's top gainer, adding 1.7 per cent.

The mining sector benchmark, on the other hand, slipped 0.5 per cent, weighed down by heavyweight BHP Billiton which fell 1.2 per cent.

BHP Billiton rejected a plan by activist shareholder Elliott Advisors to scrap the miner's dual company structure, split off its oil business and return more cash to investors, saying the costs would outweigh any benefits.

Elliott outlined the proposals in a letter to directors at BHP, adding the world's biggest miner to a string of firms where it has lobbied for action to boost shareholder returns.

Financials outperformed other sectors, with the index at its highest in over a week. The "Big Four" banks gained between 0.4 per cent and 1.2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 per cent, or 15.52 points to finish the session at 7,254.38.

Healthcare stocks and materials led the gains.