Oil up, flirts with $104, eyes Middle East, China

Brent crude oil rose to flirt with $104 a barrel on Tuesday, supported by lower than expected Chinese inflation figures as well as unrest in the Middle East.

Brent crude for April delivery rose 61 cents to $103.69 a barrel by 1048 GMT, after earlier pushing to $104.04 in the session, but still off a 29-month peak of $104.30 reached on Monday.

US crude for March delivery was up 52 cents to $85.33 at the same time, after falling to 2-1/2-month lows in the previous session, pressured by high stockpiles at key delivery point Cushing, Oklahoma.

"We are seeing contagion from Tunisia and Egypt to other countries that are more important for the oil markets," said Christophe Barret, oil analyst at Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank.

Oil was bouyed by continuing political tensions in North Africa and the Middle East, following Egypt's ousting of president Hosni Mubarak last week.

A Reuters poll forecast a rise in crude oil stockpiles for the fifth week in a row, to 2.6 million barrels, due to a rebound in imports.

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