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Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Apr 14 (Reuters) Gold prices edged higher on Friday, supported by concerns over high oil prices and U.S.-Iran tensions, but lacked the momentum to extend gains with key markets closed for the Good Friday holiday.

The firmness in Tokyo Commodity Exchange gold futures underpinned dollar-based spot precious metals prices following falls in New York the previous day.

At 0347 GMT, spot gold was trading at $598.00/598.80 an ounce, up from $596.10/596.90 in New York on Thursday. It had climbed to a 25-year high of $604 on Tuesday.

''The trend remains bullish as funds are still keen to put their money into commodities that are performing well, and extremely strong silver and copper are giving support to gold,'' said Shuji Sugata, an assistant manager Mitsubishi Corp. Futures and Securities.

Traders may test gold prices above $600, but the market lacks some energy as many key centres are closed for Easter holidays.

New York metals futures markets will be closed on Friday and reopen on Monday, while London precious metals markets will be closed both on Friday and Monday.

''For now the market is careful about taking new longs above $600,'' Sugata said. ''Investors want to see gold stay above $600 for a while before building up new buy positions.'' At this week's peak, gold was up more than 16 percent from the start of the year and more than 41 percent higher than 12 months ago. Prices have doubled in the last four years.

Since rising to $600 on Wednesday, gold has shied away from that level due to strong profit-taking.

But investors and investment funds are still reluctant to sell heavily due to concerns over high oil prices and jitters over Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Iran has said it would not back away from sensitive nuclear development work after announcing earlier this week it had enriched uranium to a level used in nuclear power stations. The United States believes Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb.

Oil rose in New York trade to near last year's record above $70 a barrel on tension in the Middle East. Gold is often considered a hedge against inflation.

''As long as geopolitical concerns are there, gold will be supported,'' Sugata said.

Technically, bullion will find support around its seven-day moving average (MA) of $595 and its 14-day MA of $588.

In Japan, benchmark most-distant February TOCOM gold <0#JAU:> closed the morning session at 2,308 yen per gram, up 15 yen or 0.65 percent from Thursday.

Other precious metals were confined to tight range trading due to a lack of operators.

Silver rose to $12.85/12.90 an ounce from $12.77/12.80 late in New York.

Platinum was little changed at $1,075/1,085 an ounce, compared with $1,075/1,080 in New York. Palladium inched down to $343/348 an ounce from $344/349.

Precious Metals Prices by 0256 GMT Last Net Change Pct Move Gold 598.00 1.90 +0.32 TOCOM Gol d 2293.00 17.00 +0.75 Platinum 1075.00 0.00 +0.00 Palladium 343.00 -1.00 -0.29 Silver 12.86 0.09 +0.70 Change so far in 2006 Metal Latest bid End prev year Pct Move Gold 598.00 517.20 +15.62 TOCOM Gold 2293.00 1973.00 +16.22 Platinum 1075.00 968.00 +11.05 Palladium 343.00 254.00 +35.04 Silver 12.86 8.81 +45.97 * The closing prices used to calculate the net change may differ from New York's last quoted prices.


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