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European stocks mostly rise as eurozone meets

European stock markets mostly rose and the euro advanced against the dollar on Monday as eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels after last week's EU budget deal.

Supermarkets were in focus as a Europe-wide food fraud scandal over horsemeat sold as beef deepened over the weekend as Romania denied responsiblity and suspicions of criminal activity mounted.

London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies gained 0.21 percent to close at 6,277.06 points, while Frankfurt's DAX 30 slid 0.24 percent to 7,633.74 points, and in Paris the CAC 40 was flat at 3,650.58 points.

"Europes markets have been fairly subdued today with new drivers few and far between in the absence of economic data and Asian markets due to lunar holidays," said CMC Markets UK Michael Hewson.

He said investors appeared to have remained on the sidelines ahead of the latest meeting of European finance ministers, where talk on the euro's value was expected.

The European single currency climbed to $1.3417 from $1.3361 on Friday.

Gold prices fell to $1,652 an ounce from $1,668.25 Friday on the London Bullion Market.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Monday chaired his first meeting as head of the Eurogroup.

The debt crisis Dijsselbloem inherits has eased greatly since the European Central Bank vowed last year to intervene in the markets to tame borrowing costs and EU leaders agreed tough steps to bolster the euro's defences.

But after months when it seemed the single currency's future was in doubt, the euro has strengthened, sparking fears it could make eurozone exports less competitive and so undercut badly needed growth.

France especially has voiced its concerns as Japan, a major EU trading partner, forces down the yen to make its exports cheaper.

Dijsselbloem said the 17-nation eurozone would likely examine the issue of the strong euro in a general way.

"It might be a subject at the Eurogroup meeting, quite right," he said on arrival for the talks. "We will discuss as usual the economic state in the eurozone and the issue might rise there."

Asked if the eurozone needed an exchange rate policy, as suggested by France, he said: "I certainly won't comment on that now; we will see whether it comes up."

Calls by French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici for a "coordinated approach" to currency rates at the international level largely failed to move the euro.

But a speech by German central banker Jens Weidmann arguing that a weaker euro would spark inflation sent the euro above $1.34, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Away from the euro, Britain's food minister on Monday suggested that an "extensive" criminal conspiracy could be behind the horsemeat scandal in Europe.

Owen Paterson said he believed warnings had been sent out to 16 different countries which might be affected by the scandal.

Eating horse is considered taboo in Britain and tests have found some frozen ready meals produced in mainland Europe and labelled as processed beef actually contained up to 100 percent horsemeat.

Britain's biggest retailer, supermarket giant Tesco, has removed from its stores products found to have contained horsemeat. Tesco's share price was up 1.67 percent to 368.65 pence in London trading.

US shares pulled back on Monday after reaching five-year peaks in light trade on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.14 percent to 13,973.16 points in midday trade.

The S&P 500 index slid 0.05 percent to 1,517.18 points, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dipped 0.07 percent at 3,191.53 points.