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EMERGING MARKETS-Most Asian shares fall as investors seek safer assets; c.banks in focus

    * Thai c.bank holds rates, cuts GDP forecast
    * S. Korean shares slide for 4th straight day
    * Indonesian rupiah weakens the most

    By Shruti Sonal
    March 24 (Reuters) - Indonesia, China and India shares fell
about 1% on Wednesday as fresh lockdowns in Europe sapped
appetite for Asia's risk-sensitive currencies and stocks,
further unsettling markets that had been spooked by rising
inflation fears in recent weeks. 
    Shares in Jakarta, Mumbai and Shanghai
 fell between 1% and 1.3%, while Indonesia's rupiah
 led losses among currencies that buckled under the
dollar's strength. 
    Germany extended its lockdown to mid-April and Norway
postponed its reopening plan on Tuesday, while rising cases in
Asia remained a concern for countries such as India and the
Philippines.
    Most countries in emerging Asia looked towards central bank
measures to boost recovery.
    Thailand's central bank lowered its 2021 economic growth
forecast and left its key interest rate unchanged, as expected,
at a record low.
    "In addition to the weak economy, the other main concerns
for the central bank are the strong currency and persistent
deflation," wrote Gareth Leather, a senior Asia economist at
Capital Economics. 
     "Both of these point in the direction of interest rates
remaining low for the foreseeable future." 
    The baht was unchanged from early trades, down
0.2%, while stocks were flat.
     The Philippine central bank is also expected to stand pat
on rates for a third straight meeting on Thursday.
     Ahead of the meeting, the country's governor said the
central bank has the scope to maintain monetary policy support
for the country's economy, but is on guard against "second-round
effects" that could push inflation higher.
     Over in Indonesia, the finance minister said the country
would not withdraw fiscal support for the economy abruptly, but
would continue lowering the deficit, with the 2022 budget gap
set to be below this year's level.
    ING analysts warned the recovery in Southeast Asia's largest
economy, which also has the highest number of COVID-19
infections in the region, might not be derailed but definitely
delayed "by several months". 
    Impediments on the roll-out of vaccines also dampened the
investor sentiment in the region.
    Hong Kong temporarily suspended COVID-19 vaccinations using
two batches of the treatment developed by Pfizer and
BioNTech citing defective packaging, while a U.S.
health agency said AstraZeneca Plc may have included
outdated information in the results of its U.S. trial data.

    Wall Street ended lower overnight as U.S. Treasury Secretary
Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy remains in crisis from the
pandemic even as she defended developing plans for future tax
increases to pay for new public investments.
    
    
  Asia stock indexes and currencies at   0730 GMT
 COUNTRY       FX RIC           FX     FX    INDEX  STOCKS  STOCK
                             DAILY  YTD %            DAILY  S YTD
                                 %                       %      %
 Japan                       -0.05  -4.94            -2.04   3.50
 China                       -0.14  +0.05            -1.30  -3.05
 India                       -0.34  +0.55            -1.05   4.85
 Indonesia                   -0.42  -2.84            -1.56   2.95
 Malaysia                    -0.29  -2.71             0.11  -1.86
 Philippines                 +0.00  -1.36             0.79  -9.00
 S.Korea                     -0.34  -4.18            -0.28   4.28
 Singapore                   -0.26  -1.97            -0.15   9.95
 Taiwan                      -0.20  -0.19            -0.90   8.82
 Thailand                    -0.19  -3.42            -0.01   7.91
 

 (Reporting by Shruti Sonal in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren
Daniel)
  
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