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*March retail sales seen +11.0 pct yr/yr, highest since March 1997. TOKYO, April 25- Japan's retail sales are expected to expand at their fastest pace in 17 years in March ahead of last-minute buying before a sales tax hike in April gets into full swing, a Reuters poll showed.
MOSCOW, April 25- Credit agency Standard& Poor's cut Russia's foreign currency ratings on Friday, saying further downgrades were possible if the West imposed tighter sanctions against Moscow in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
PARIS, April 25- France's government weighed in to the furore over the future of the country's struggling engineering group Alstom on Friday and the stock market regulator forced a suspension of trading in its shares pending a company statement.
SHANGHAI, April 25- British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc has appointed two executives to new roles overseeing sales and marketing in China after authorities accused the firm of corruption last year, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told Reuters.
BEIJING, April 25- Hong Kong shares fell on Friday as concerns about the state of China's economy and the health of its banking sector clouded positive earnings from several Chinese firms. The China Enterprises Index of the leading offshore Chinese listings in Hong Kong was down 1.4 percent.
*DAX underperforms again on worries over Ukraine. PARIS/ LONDON, April 25- European shares fell in early trade on Friday as new signs of violence in Ukraine weighed on stock markets that had been buoyed by corporate takeover activity.
*Ukraine forces kill up to 5 rebels. LONDON, April 25- Brent crude oil eased below $110 a barrel on Friday but was still near seven-week highs as escalating tensions over Ukraine between major oil producer Russia and the West heightened fears of supply disruption.
TOKYO, April 25- Honda Motor Co on Friday forecast a 3.6 percent rise in net profit for the year to next March, below analyst estimates and a sharp slowdown from last year, as foreign exchange rates stabilise after a steep decline in the yen boosted earnings.
*Yen shrugs off Tokyo April CPI. LONDON, April 25- The dollar was stuck near a one-week low versus the yen on Friday, struggling to gain traction as rising tensions in Ukraine offset optimism about U.S. economic growth.
TOKYO, April 25- Kobe Steel Ltd, Japan's No.3 steelmaker, said its crude steel output hit a 6- year peak in the business year just ended and that production this year would be similar due to robust domestic demand.
KIEV, April 25- Ukraine is pressing on with its operation against pro-Russian rebels in the east and has ample military resources to keep up the offensive round the clock, the interior minister said on Friday.
BEIJING, April 25- China shares dropped 1 percent on Friday and suffered their worst week since early January, as concerns about market liquidity hurt investor sentiment after Guanghui Energy became the first mainland firm to announce plans to issue preferred shares.
LONDON, April 25- European shares fell on Friday, led lower by a drop in Germany's DAX index, as new signs of violence in Ukraine weighed on stock markets which had been buoyed this week by corporate takeover activity.
*Coal tops the list for deaths in energy sector. *Coal also a major polluter. Coal mining is responsible for more fatalities than the production of any other energy source due to poor working conditions in export countries such as China, South Africa, Indonesia and Colombia.
BANGALORE, April 25- Prospects for a strong economic rebound in India are dim as industry remains weak, and although a business-friendly opposition party looks likely to form a new government, its ability to pass sweeping reforms is in doubt, a Reuters poll showed.
*Extent of China slowdown a key risk factor. Much will depend on how China- the world's second-largest economy- performs. The consensus from over 200 economists polled April 15-24 was for growth in economies from China to India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand to be steady and near last year's largely lacklustre levels.
SYDNEY, April 25- Australia's economy is expected to slowly gather speed over the next couple of years as strength in housing and exports works to offset the drag from a maturing mining boom.
BEIJING, April 25- China's economy is expected to slow further this year, as Beijing continues to make reforms its top priority and rules out major stimulus to spur short-term growth, a Reuters poll showed.
*Ukraine forces kill up to 5 rebels; Russia starts drill near border. SINGAPORE, April 25- Brent futures held near seven-week highs above $110 a barrel on Friday as escalating tensions over Ukraine between top oil producer Russia and the West worsened supply disruption fears.
LONDON, April 25- WPP, the world's largest advertising group, reported a much better than expected 7 percent rise in first quarter like-for-like revenue growth and said it had seen a surge in new client wins due to changes in the industry.