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Apr 16, 4:20 AM EDT

Oil price rises but gains tempered by slowdown in China's 1Q economic growth

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The price of oil rose Wednesday as Ukraine took action against pro-Russian separatists in its east but slower Chinese growth tempered gains.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was up 16 cents at $103.91 a barrel at 0835 GMT in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It closed Tuesday at $103.75, down 30 cents.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, was up 3 cents at $109.39 a barrel.

Market concerns over Ukraine, which sent tanks and troops to reclaim government buildings occupied by pro-Russian gunmen in its eastern region, were offset by slower growth in China. A slump in China's growth could reduce demand for crude.

Officials from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and the European Union are set to meet in Geneva on Thursday for negotiations aimed at persuading Russia to back off in Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea.

Failing that, EU leaders could meet as early as next week to decide on tighter sanctions on Russia, a major producer of oil and gas that has been accused of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine. Russia is a major energy supplier to Europe.

Data released Wednesday showed China's economy grew 7.4 percent in the first quarter.

That was the slowest pace of expansion since the third quarter of 2012, but slightly higher than the average of analyst forecasts. China's economy, the world's second largest, grew 7.7 percent in the final quarter of last year. Beijing is targeting 7.5 percent growth for 2014.

Expectations of rising U.S. crude oil stockpiles also put a cap on prices. Data for the week ending April 11 is expected to show an increase of 2.4 million barrels in crude oil stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts.

In other energy futures trading in new York:

- Wholesale gasoline fell 0.8 cents to $3.003 a gallon.

- Natural gas fell 2.8 cents to $4.539 per 1,000 cubic feet.

- Heating oil was up 0.5 cent at $2.992 a gallon.

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