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Asian Markets Edge Forward, Taiwan Rallies

Asian stocks ran flat to higher Monday. Japan and South Korea finished in the black. Trading activity was muted markets in Australia and Hong Kong closed for the Easter holiday. They will reopen Tuesday. Friday was a holiday in the United States and around 40 other countries worldwide.

The U.S. dollar steadied against the yen , well above a 13-year low touched last week thanks to a series of aggressive efforts by the Federal Reserve to ease the U.S. credit crisis.

The Japanese business survey index of sentiment at large manufacturers in the January-March quarter was minus 12.9, compared with plus 5.2 in October-December, a government survey showed just before the opening.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average ended almost flat after a three-day winning streak, with gains by exporters like Honda Motor offsetting declines of insurers such as Millea Holdings. In thin trade Japan's three largest banks, including Mitsubishi UFJ Financial
Group
, extended gains, all rising more than 2 percent.

South Korea's KOSPI closed about half percent higher, led by financials and industrial shares, as a stronger won and stabilizing commodity prices boosted market sentiment, encouraging investors to pick up beaten down shares. Financials such as Kookmin Bank and Shinhan Financial Group advanced.

Taiwan markets finished at a f-month higher, gaining 4 percent. Investors were optimistic over better trade and political ties with China. The resounding victory over the weekend for Nationalist Party candidate Ma Ying-jeou, combined with the Nationalist's victory in legislative elections in January, made investors hopeful that more business opportunities for Taiwan as well as reduced political tensions with China, would come about.

In markets still trading, Singapore's Straits Times Index gained over 2 percent following a Wall Street rally on Thursday. Financials such as top lender DBS Group, led the advance.

Chinese shares bucked the positive as Petrochina extended losses. The Shanghai Composite Index was down 2 percent and is tipped to test psychological support level of 3,600.