Asian shares fall amid worries about Middle East

Asian shares fell in early trading Monday as markets kept nervous watch over political unrest in the Middle East.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was flat at 10,849.77 as the index pared robust gains made last week.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.3 percent to 23,520.75, South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 2,010.44, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.8 percent to 4,900.90.

On Sunday Moammar Gadhafi's son went on state television in Libya to proclaim that his father remained in charge with the army's backing. Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, in the regime's first comments on the six days of anti-government demonstrations, also warned protesters that they risked igniting a civil war in which Libya's oil wealth "will be burned."

Libya's response has been the harshest of any Arab country that has been wracked by the protests that toppled long-serving leaders in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. The instability pushed oil prices higher amid worries of oil supply disruptions.

Also hurting sentiment was the latest move by China Friday to control inflation. Beijing ordered its banks to hold back more money as reserves, raising the required level by 0.5 percent of deposits. Reserves vary by institution but are about 20 percent for China's biggest state-owned lenders.

Shares of Australia resource companies, which rely heavily on growing Chinese demand, slumped in response. BHP Billiton Ltd. fell 1.8 percent, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd. lost 1.7 percent.

Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand also retreated.

In currencies, the dollar slipped to 83.08 yen from 83.16 yen late Friday. The euro stood at $1.3691 from $1.3690.

Benchmark crude for March delivery jumped $1.15 to $87.35 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects oil prices in last paragraph. Updates market prices)