Asia stocks rise after US Fed stays the course

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Thursday, signaling approval of the U.S. central bank's message that it will keep interest rates at record lows despite recent signs of improvement in the world's biggest economy.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said at the end of a two-day policy meeting that the Fed won't alter its aggressive monetary easing — $85 billion in monthly bond purchases to push down borrowing costs — until it is convinced the economy's gains can be sustained.

Fed officials reinforced their plan to keep short-term interest rates at rock-bottom levels at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent. The current unemployment rate is 7.7 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 1.2 percent to 12,618.01 as the yen's decline continued to boost exporters. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent to 22,283.33. South Korea's Kospi added 0.1 percent to 1,960.39. But Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.3 percent to 4,951.90.

Traders, meanwhile, are still waiting to see how Cyprus will stave off bankruptcy after the country's government rejected a plan to contribute to a bailout package by seizing money from people's bank accounts.

Cyprus needs to come up with 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) on its own in order to secure 10 billion euros in rescue loans from international creditors.

Officials on Wednesday pursued a new bailout strategy that could include a loan from ally Russia in exchange for natural gas leases and selling assets from its most troubled banks. Nearly a third of the deposits in Cyprus' banks are believed to be owned by Russians.

If Cyprus doesn't work out a way to get the money it needs, the banks could fail and fuel financial chaos that could eventually cause the country to leave the euro. That's a scenario European policymakers are fighting to avoid for fear that an exit by one may spell the eventual end of the currency union.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 6 cents to $93.44 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract for April rose 80 cents to settle at $92.96 on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2950 from $1.2943 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 96.01 from 95.89 yen.

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