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Written by: Staff

SINGAPORE, May 4 (Reuters) Asian shares fell on Thursday, dragged lower by U.S. stocks which weakened after strong data raised interest rate concerns.

U.S. crude futures inched lower toward $72 a barrel after falling 3 percent a day earlier, gold paused after a rally that lifted prices to a 25-year high, and the dollar was stuck in a range after failing to gain support from the U.S. data.

Australian shares fell more than 1 percent on weakness in miners.

South Korean stocks were hurt by a stronger won currency and U.S.

interest rate worries, but Hyundai Motor Co. was up after a rise in operating profit.

''It looks like the Fed could continue to raise interest rates.

If that happens, it would come amid a general rise in interest rates worldwide,'' said Kim Joon-kie, an analyst at SK Securities.

''A tightening of global liquidity could be a reason why foreign investors have been sellers in the domestic markets.'' The data comes before the Federal Reserve's policy meeting next week. Investors keep an eye on the U.S. interest rates as the country is South Korea's second-largest export market.

LG Electronics Inc., the world's fourth-biggest mobile phone maker, fell nearly 2 percent.

In Singapore, the Strait Times index fell about 0.5 percent but shares of Singapore Telecommunications -- Southeast Asia's largest phone company -- rose as much as 2.2 percent after it said it would return $2.6 billion to investors.

Hong Kong shares were flat as investors booked profits in blue chips after the market touched five-and-a-half year high on Wednesday.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones fell 0.14 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq was down 0.25 percent.

Shares in Telecom Corp. of New Zealand fell as much as 10.6 percent to NZ$4.96 -- their biggest single-day percentage fall in nine years -- after the government said on Wednesday it must open its local networks to competitors to allow other companies to offer fast Internet services.

The fall knocked as much as 2.8 percent off New Zealand's benchmark NZX-50 stock index, its biggest one-day drop in four years, before it recovered slightly.

OIL SLIDES, DOLLAR STUCK U.S. crude futures inched lower toward $72 a barrel after falling 3 percent a day earlier as U.S. data showed a surprise rise in gasoline supplies, soothing supply concerns ahead of the summer driving season.

NYMEX crude for June delivery was trading down 23 cents at $72.03 a barrel in ACCESS electronic trading by 0248 GMT. Prices now stand more than $3 below their record high from late April.

Gold took a breather after hitting a 25-year high of $676.30 an ounce the previous day on worries about Iran's nuclear plans, a weak dollar and firm oil prices.

Spot gold was quoted at $666.30/667.30 an ounce, versus $666.80/667.80 late in New York on Wednesday.

The dollar stuck in a narrow range after failing to gain any lasting support from firm U.S. data or supportive comments from Japanese officials.

Traders said the euro might benefit from a European Central Bank meeting later in the day. The ECB is expected to take a hawkish tone, paving the way for a likely interest-rate rise in June.

The dollar briefly rose after Japan's Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said overnight that financial markets had misunderstood a G7 statement which investors took as a call for the dollar to weaken.

The euro hovered at $1.2630, little changed from New York's $1.2626 close.

Japan's markets were closed for the Golden Week holiday period and will reopen on Monday.


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