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Asian stock markets mostly shrug off Crimea vote

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HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks drifted Monday as investors largely shrugged off a weekend vote in which Crimeans opted to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen got a boost after preliminary results showed an overwhelming number of voters in the Ukrainian region approved splitting off and joining Russia in Sunday's vote. Final results are expected later Monday.

The U.S. has threatened Russia with sanctions should it annex Crimea and President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials warned Moscow against making further military moves toward southern and eastern Ukraine.

Fears about regional instability did not, however, translate strongly into investor pessimism in Asia, as the vote unfolded according to expectations. Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped as much as 0.4 percent in early trading, fuelled by the yen's recent gains, but later trimmed those losses, edging 0.1 percent lower to 14,308.49.

"If there are signs of Russian influence extending beyond Crimea, expect risk aversion to reverberate," said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank in Singapore, adding that "safety bolts" such as yen, gold, Swiss francs and U.S. Treasurys will also gain.

The dollar, which has lost about 1.7 percent against the yen in the past week, was trading at 101.48 yen compared with 101.30 yen late Friday. A stronger yen makes goods from Japanese exporters such as Sony and Canon pricier overseas.

South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.2 percent to 1,924.51 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.3 percent to 21,467.35. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent to 5,321.

In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite rose 0.5 percent to 2,013.83 after officials announced on the weekend that exchange rate controls would be modestly eased. It's the latest step in an eventual plan to let the yuan float freely.

Japanese internet company Softbank Corp. surged 6.3 percent after China's Alibaba, in which it owns a 37 percent stake, confirmed long-awaited plans to move forward with a U.S. stock listing that could value the e-commerce giant at more than $100 billion.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.3 percent to end Friday at 16,065.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.3 percent to 1,841.13 and the Nasdaq composite dropped 0.4 percent to 4,245.40.

In currencies The euro rose to $1.3902 from $1.3898.

Oil prices rose. Benchmark crude for April delivery gained 24 cents to $99.13 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 69 cents to settle at $98.20 on Friday.

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