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Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Feb 23 (Reuters) Gold moved in a tight band on Thursday but was under slight downward pressure as falls in oil prices induced technical selling and falls in Tokyo futures prices weighed on the yellow metal.

At 0315 GMT, spot gold fell to $553.25/553.75 an ounce from $553.90/554.80 late in New York on Wednesday.

Spot gold has struggled to break through its 30-day moving average of around $556 for the last three days. It moved in a range of $547-$555 on Wednesday.

Fund operators had few reasons to take on more fresh buy positions in gold, reflecting falls in oil prices in New York. But the underlying trend for the metal in the long term remains bullish, traders said.

''The market is in a consolidation mode, but everyone agrees that the long-term trend is still bullish,'' said Takashi Ogura, a risk management section manager at Kanetsu Asset Management.

''The market is trying to find out which way gold will move in the short term, but it looks like prices are a bit capped for now.'' Gains in precious metals were limited as oil prices fell nearly $2 on Wednesday, shedding gains from a major disruption in Nigerian exports as dealers anticipated another buildup in already robust U.S. fuel stockpiles.

The market showed a muted reaction to Wednesday's report by the World Gold Council that showed fourth-quarter 2005 global demand for gold fell 15 percent from a year earlier to 943 tonnes as high and volatile prices capped buying by the jewellery sector.

Traders were watching developments at a huge mine owned by a unit of Freeport-McMoRan Copper&Gold Inc. in Indonesia, which has suspended operations since Wednesday.

Activities at the mine remained suspended on Thursday as protests continued in the vicinity, a spokesman for Freeport's Indonesian unit said.

In Japan, the benchmark most distant December gold contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange <0#JAU:> closed the morning session at 2,132 yen per gram, down 8 yen or 0.37 percent from Wednesday's close.

Many Japanese investors stayed on the sidelines, refraining from taking new positions ahead of the benchmark rollover to the February 2007 contract on Friday, which was another reason keeping overall activity sluggish during Asian hours.

Some Japanese speculators were considering shifting out of precious metals in the short term and allocating their funds to commodities, which were moving more actively.

Platinum fell to $1,020/1,025 an ounce from $1,023/1,027 in New York.

Sister metal palladium was little changed at $284/290 an ounce from $284/288.

Silver fell to $9.57/9.61 an ounce from $9.60/9.63 late in New York.

Reuters CS DB0955

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