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Written by: Staff

SINGAPORE, Apr 24 (Reuters) Industrial metals raced to near new unbreached territory on Monday, with copper just below the $7,000 a tonne mark on persistent concerns over supply disruptions and on relentless fund buying.

By 0701 GMT, London Metal Exchange copper for delivery in three months was up $80 at $6,860/$6,890 a tonne from Friday's London close. Copper earlier jumped on Select to $6,930, topping Friday's record high of $6,850.

''The evidence is the underlying trend is very strong,'' said Peter Richardson, chief metals economist at Deutsche Bank. ''All metals are becoming precious.'' On Friday, copper, used in construction and electronics, gained $484, or 7.7 percent, to close at $6,780.

Copper prices have risen 57 percent this year, and gained about five-fold from below $1,400 in November 2001 on strong demand, especially from China, and tight supply after years of under-investment in new mining projects.

LME dealers in Tokyo and Hong Kong said the wider spread between bids and offers and current high price levels have chilled trade in Asia.

''People are generally staying out of the markets as spreads are too wide,'' an LME dealer in Hong Kong said.

On the supply side, some 400 more Mexican miners joined a nationwide strike on Sunday in defence of a union boss accused by the government of graft, the national mining and metal workers' union said.

More than 300 workers at the Lomas Bayas copper mine in northern Chile will vote on Wednesday this week whether to strike or accept a contract offer from Canada's Falconbridge Ltd.

Canada's Falconbridge Ltd. and unionised workers at its Brunswick mine and smelter plan to step up contract talks next week and are calling in a conciliator to help, the union said on Friday.

Shanghai copper futures jumped to a record high, hitting their daily upper trading limit, with the front-month May contract hitting 62,470 yuan a tonne.

The most active Shanghai contract, July, rose 4 percent from the previous settlement to end at 62,150 yuan ($7,749) a tonne. It was up 2,960 yuan from the previous close.

Shanghai spot copper prices were between 64,400 and 65,000 yuan per tonne, up 4,360 yuan from Friday.

LME aluminium was at $2,775/$2,780 a tonne against Friday's London close of $2,778. It earlier rose to $2,785, a new 17-{ year peak.

Shanghai's July aluminium contract closed up 700 yuan at 21,690 yuan a tonne from the previous close, after rising to $21,900, 10 yuan below the daily upper trading limit.

In other LME metals, zinc was at $3,275/$3,295 a tonne after gaining $250 or 8.1 percent to end at $3,325 on Friday.

On Friday, the metal reached a record $3,360.

On Sunday, world number-two zinc producer, Australia's Zinifex Ltd., said there would be delays in bringing on new supplies to meet strong market demand, despite record prices.

Zinc, used as an anti-corrosive coating in galvanised steel production, has been a star performer in the base metals complex this year, gaining 76 percent on tight concentrates supply and growing demand from the steel sector.

Nickel touched a new record of $19,500 on Friday, while tin rose to $9,550, within $50 of a contract high.

In the mining sector, the world's top miner, BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc., added 3 percent to A$31.01, while Rio Tinto Ltd./Plc. , the second-biggest, rose more than 2 percent to A$82.55.

Metal Prices by 0701 GMT LME ($/tonne), SFE (yuan/tonne) and COMEX (US cents/lb) Metal Last Net Change Pct Move LME Cu 6860.00 80.00 +1.18 SHFE Cu* 62150.00 2960.00 +5.00 LME Alum 2775.00 -3.00 -0.11 SHFE Alu* 21690.00 700.00 +3.33 COMEX Cu** 324.80 0.00 +0.00 LME Zinc 3275.00 -50.00 -1.50 LME Nickel 19200.00 -200.00 -1.03 LME Lead 1250.00 0.00 +0.00 LME Tin 9150.00 -400.00 -4.19 Change so far in 2006 Metal Latest bid End prev year Pct Move LME Cu 6860.00 4395.00 +56.09 SHFE Cu* 62150.00 41720.00 +48.97 LME Alum 2775.00 2276.00 +21.92 SHFE Alu* 21690.00 19360.00 +12.04 COMEX Cu** 324.80 204.20 +59.06 LME Zinc 3275.00 1905.00 +71.92 LME Nickel 19200.00 13500.00 +42.22 LME Lead 1250.00 1051.00 +18.93 LME Tin 9150.00 6475.00 +41.31 * 3rd contract months for SHFE copper and aluminium.

** 1st contract month for COMEX copper.

($1=8.02 yuan) REUTERS CS HS1456

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