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  • *U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected; fall at Cushing hub. LONDON, March 20- Brent crude oil rose slightly on Thursday after a gauge of U.S. economic activity came in stronger than expected for February. Brent was up 12 cents at $105.97 a barrel by 1441 GMT, after settling 94 cents lower on Wednesday.

  • HOLLYWOOD, Fla., March 20- U.S. blacklistings over Russia's annexation of Crimea may spark a sanctions exchange that would leave banks scrambling to assess their exposure to targeted parties and to uncover murky financial linkages, according to industry officials.

  • UPDATE 5-Brent crude eases on U.S. rate rise expectations Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 | 10:04 AM ET

    *U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected; fall at Cushing hub. LONDON, March 20- Brent crude oil eased on Thursday after the Federal Reserve indicated the U.S. central bank could end its stimulus programme and raise interest rates sooner than expected. Brent was down 11 cents at $105.74 a barrel by 1357 GMT, after settling 94 cents lower on Wednesday.

  • BERLIN, March 20- On a Sunday in early March, a day after Vladimir Putin won parliamentary backing for an invasion of Ukraine, Angela Merkel called him to demand an explanation. Merkel, in turn, had been preaching caution on punishing Russia in her talks with the United States, hopeful that Putin would eventually back down and accept proposals to ease the crisis.

  • *Russia issues passports in Crimea, will plug deficit. "I am certain the passage of these documents will be a turning point in the fate of the multi-ethnic peoples of Crimea and Russia, who are linked by the close ties of historical solidarity," Lavrov told the State Duma.

  • BRUSSELS, March 20- Influential European lawmakers backed a package of nearly 500 million euros in annual trade benefits for Ukraine on Thursday, opening the way for duty-free Ukrainian exports into the European Union from late April.

  • MOSCOW, March 20- Russia will not bail out companies who may face financial difficulties, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said, as business owners worry about the impact of western sanctions over the government's moves to annex Crimea.

  • *EU leaders to discuss Russia, Ukraine, energy at two-day summit. BRUSSELS, March 20- European leaders hold critical talks on Thursday about how to tighten the screws on Russia following its seizure of Crimea, how to support Ukraine's stricken economy and how best to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas in years to come.

  • How the West can effectively sanction Russia     Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 | 6:35 AM ET

    Nina Schick, policy advisor at OpenEurope, discusses what the future holds for Ukraine and outlines sanctions the West could impose that would "hurt" Russia.

  • BERLIN, March 20- European leaders will show they are ready to ramp up punitive measures against Russia, including politically sensitive economic sanctions, at a summit starting on Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament.

  • *U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected; fall at Cushing hub. LONDON, March 20- Brent crude oil eased on Thursday after the U.S. "The Fed's move came as something of a surprise in terms of the timing for increasing rates," said Olivier Jakob, an analyst at Petromatrix in Zug, Switzerland.

  • Britain sets out Europe's energy alternatives to Russia Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 | 5:16 AM ET

    BRUSSELS, March 20- Europe has a range of options to shore up its energy security and cut dependence on Russian supplies, including asking the United States to export more gas and working with Iraq, a British government document says.

  • Crimea legally Russian by Friday     Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 | 5:15 AM ET

    We're "seeing history being made" at great speed as from Friday, Crimea will officially and legally be Russian, NBC's Jim Maceda reports, adding that the West is expanding its list of Russian citizens to be sanctioned.

  • BERLIN, March 20- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech in parliament that EU leaders would signal their readiness to ramp up punitive measures against Russia, including politically sensitive economic sanctions, at a summit starting on Thursday.

  • Joseph Dayan, executive director at BCS Prime Brokerage, says that several European Union countries have different economic contracts with Russia, making a cohesive sanction plan difficult for the 28-nation bloc.

  • *U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected; fall at Cushing pricing hub. SINGAPORE, March 20- Brent crude rose on Thursday to hover around $106 a barrel after the U.S.

  • EU leaders to slap more sanctions on Russia?     Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 | 2:18 AM ET

    CNBC's Julia Chatterley, discusses what actions European Union leaders might take against Russia and whether more sanctions are in the pipeline.

  • *U.S. stockpiles rise more than expected; fall at Cushing pricing hub. SINGAPORE, March 20- Brent crude rose above $106 a barrel on Thursday after the U.S. "The consensus is now that the winding down of easy money is happening because the economy is strong enough to stand on its own two feet," said Mark Keenan, head of commodities research in Asia at Societe Generale.

  • March 20- A former employee of Microsoft Corp is facing criminal charges after he allegedly passed trade secrets to a blogger in France, U.S. court documents showed.

  • SINGAPORE, March 20- Gold hovered near three-week lows on Thursday as the U.S. dollar jumped on expectations the Federal Reserve could end its bond-buying programme this fall, hurting the metal's safe haven appeal as a hedge against inflation.