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Markets in Japan and India surge

 Stock markets in Japan and India soared Thursday as demand for blue chip stocks fueled the performances of both. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 106.93 points, or 0.63 percent, to 17,045.34 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange - the index's highest close since August 29, 2000.

The index has gained 3.4 percent over the last five trading days, largely due to interest in large-cap and technology stocks.

In India, the benchmark index of the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Sensex, rose 1.1 percent to a record 11,307.04 points.

On the rival National Stock Exchange, the broader 50-stock benchmark S&P CNX Nifty index ended 1.9 percent higher at a record high of 3,418.95 points.

Both Indian indexes also hit record closing highs on Wednesday as mutual funds and other investors continued to buy Indian blue-chip stocks such as Oil & Natural Gas Corp., Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services.

Japanese government officials credited structural reforms with smoothing its economy's path to recovery, and took the market's rise as further proof Japan was defeating the deflation - or falling prices - of recent years.

"It means the structural reforms that have been carried out are regarded highly from inside and outside Japan," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

"There is an expectation that further reforms will be carried out, and that Japan's strength will increase further," said Abe.

Also contributing to Thursday's advance was a bullish banking sector report from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which lifted its profit outlook for major Japanese banks, traders said.

The U.S. investment banking firm said it raised net profit estimates for eight major Japanese banks to a combined 3.4 trillion yen ($28.81 billion) for the current fiscal year ending this month, from the previous outlook of 2.6 trillion yen, on the strength of Tokyo's stock market.

In India, positive news buoyed investor sentiment on Thursday after the country's leading drug company, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., said it had bought a Belgian generic drug manufacturer - the firm's third acquisition this week as it works to expand its European presence.

"The stocks are going one way - up - on continued liquidity and heavy foreign fund buying," said Ajit Sanghvi, a director at Bombay-based MSS Securities.

Foreign funds have purchased $3.9 billion worth of stocks as of March 28 this year, compared with $10.7 billion in the whole of 2005.



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