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Miners drag Australian shares lower on reports of China restricting coal imports

* China steelmakers call for investigation into iron ore prices

* Benchmark stock index closes near two-week low

* Coal exporters New Hope, Whitehaven slump

* NZ bourse at one-week closing low (Updates to close)

Dec 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped on Tuesday, with miners incurring majority of the losses on reports that China was restricting coal imports from Australia, and on news of calls for higher regulatory scrutiny over surging iron ore prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4% to 6,631.3, its lowest close in nearly two weeks, after Chinese media outlets reported that the country’s top economic planner had granted approval to power plants to import coal without clearance restrictions, except for Australia.

Coal is the third biggest export from Australia, which has been embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with its largest trading partner China.

Further hurting miners in Australia, China’s steel producers called for regulatory investigation into a recent jump in iron ore prices. Benchmark Dalian iron ore futures had jumped for a fifth straight week last week, rising nearly 10% on Friday.

“Coal companies have seen a capitulation in investor sentiment as the Chinese bans on all Australian coal have seen a savage sell-off,” said James McGlew, executive director for corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

“No question that the Chinese bans and tariffs slapped on a range of exports from Australia have spooked the horses and for the time being they continue to run away.”

Australian miners lost about 2.1%, their biggest since Nov. 10, with BHP Group and Rio Tinto shedding 2.3% and 1.3%, respectively.

Pureplay coal exporters fell sharply, as well. New Hope Corp ended 2.7% lower, China-controlled Yancoal Australia shed 8.4%, and Whitehaven Coal lost about 6%.

Heavyweight financials slipped, with all the “Big Four” banks ending in negative territory.

In New Zealand, the S&P/NZX 50 index declined 0.5% to 12,767.17, its lowest close in a week.

Blue-chip stocks were among the top drags. NZ-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp lost 1.7%, while Spark New Zealand declined more than 2%. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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