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Asian markets mixed, Seoul down after N. Korea test

Asian markets were mixed in holiday-thinned trade Tuesday, with Tokyo boosted by a weaker yen, while Seoul was lower after news that North Korea had successfully tested a nuclear bomb.

With several regional markets still closed for Lunar New Year celebrations, trading was quiet, while dealers look ahead to a meeting of the Group of 20 top economic power at the end of the week.

Tokyo climbed 1.94 percent, or 215.96 points, to 11,369.12, while Sydney closed flat, nudging down 0.5 points to 4,959.0 after peaking earlier in the day at a 34-month high.

Seoul, which was already flat after the North Korea reports, was off 0.26 percent, or 5.11 points, at 1,945.79.

Wellington ended flat, dipping 2.38 points to 4,218.12.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were closed for public holidays.

Japanese shares were the big gainers as the yen tumbled against the dollar in New York on Monday after US Treasury official Lael Brainard praised Tokyo's efforts to boost growth and counter deflation.

Analysts say Brainard's comments indicate Washington will not support any criticism of Japan's recent monetary easing measures at the G20 meeting on Friday.

Tokyo's recent moves have stoked fears, especially in Europe, of a currency war between the major economies as policymakers seek to devalue their currencies to make exports more competitive.

In Tokyo trade the yen bounced back slightly from heavy losses on Monday in New York.

The dollar stood at 94.10 yen, from 94.33 yen in New York late Monday, while the euro fetched $1.3380 and 125.90 yen, compared with $1.3404 and 126.42 yen.

"(The dollar/yen) is back in the 94-yen levels," Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager of research at Chibagin Asset Management, told Dow Jones Newswires. "This is going to give a tailwind."

There was little direction from Wall Street, where the Dow fell 0.16 percent and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq ended flat.

North Korea confirmed it had carried out a threatened atomic test Tuesday after international monitoring agencies reported a seismic event near the country's test site.

But while the test will raise the diplomatic stakes with Pyongyang's allies and enemies, Woori Investment & Securities analyst Lee Kyoung-min said the news, which had been expected, was unlikely to have a major effect on shares.

He noted that "past nuclear tests in North Korea failed to exert strong impact on market sentiment".

In electronic oil trading New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, was down 23 cents to $96.80 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery fell 26 cents to $117.87.

Gold was at $1,641.90 at 1030 GMT.

In other markets:

-- Manila closed flat, edging up 1.92 points to 6,459.93.

-- Jakarta ended up 1.00 percent, or 45.00 points, to 4548,24.

Astra International gained 0.65 percent to 7,750 rupiah, and Semen Indonesia jumped 1.83 percent to 16,700 rupiah.

-- Bangkok fell 0.01 percent or 0.16 points to 1,488.95.

Telecoms company True Corp. dropped 6.29 percent to 6.70 baht, while department store operator Central Pattana added 4.65 percent to 90 baht.

-- Mumbai rose 0.52 percent or 100.47 points to 19,561.04 points.

Energy explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) rose 3.81 percent to 320.15 rupees while vehicle maker Tata Motors rose 2.65 percent to 298.3 rupees.