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Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend

Oil prices finished in mixed fashion Thursday ahead of the long Easter weekend as Russia and the West sought to defuse the escalating Ukraine crisis.

The main US contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in May, rose 54 cents to close at $104.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange(NYMEX).

Brent North Sea crude for June dipped seven cents to $109.53 a barrel on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in London.

The New York futures contract found support from positive US economic news, said Carl Larry of Outlooks Oil and Opinion.

Initial unemployment claims rose much less than expected last week and stayed near seven-year lows. The Federal Reserve reported manufacturing in the Philadelphia region on the mid-Atlantic coast increased in April, hitting an eight-month high.

Traders closely followed talks in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the United States. The foreign ministers reached a breakthrough agreement aimed at calming the situation in eastern Ukraine, where government forces trying to reassert control have faced pro-Russia resistance.

There are concerns that any full-scale armed conflict in the region will disrupt supplies and send oil and gas prices rocketing because Ukraine is a major conduit for Russian gas to western Europe.

Traders were cautious ahead of the long Easter holiday weekend. The NYMEX and ICE markets will be closed Friday.

"Nobody wants to take a risk over three days, with something bad happening with Russia and Ukraine," Larry said, explaining the market's upward bias.

Tim Evans of Citi Futures said that WTI also was still benefiting from Wednesday's report of a decline in US crude-oil inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma hub, the delivery point for the WTI contract.

Those supplies fell last week by 800,000 barrels, to 26.8 million barrels, their lowest level since October 2009.