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NYMEX-U.S. crude retains strength after drop in stockpiles

SINGAPORE, May 8 (Reuters) - U.S. crude held just below $101 a barrel in early Asian trading on Thursday, holding onto most of the gains made in the previous session when oil prices rose by more than $1 on both sides of the Atlantic after an unexpected drop in U.S. inventories.

FUNDAMENTALS

* U.S. crude for June delivery was 1 cents lower at $100.76 per barrel by 0021 GMT, after settling $1.27 higher.

* Brent crude was down 14 cents at $107.99 per barrel. The contract had settled $1.07 higher.

* The U.S. Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude inventories fell 1.8 million barrels last week, compared with analyst' forecasts for a 1.4-million-barrel build.

* Stocks fell 1.4 million barrels at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery point of the U.S. futures contract, to their lowest since 2008.

* Libyan rebels occupying major oil ports in the east said on Wednesday they would boycott Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq and keep two major export terminals shut for now, a blow to efforts to restore vital oil exports.

* Global oil prices could come under pressure after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote on secession just five days before it was to be held, potentially pulling Ukraine back from the brink of violent dismemberment.

MARKETS NEWS

* Asian shares rose after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen indicated continued central bank support for the U.S. economy.

* Australia's market gained 0.7 percent in early business , while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.2 percent.

DATA/EVENTS

* The following data is expected on Thursday: (Time in GMT)

- 0200 China April trade data

- 1230 U.S. weekly initial job claims

- 1400 U.S. ISM manufacturing PMI

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Ed Davies)