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    OPEC Predicts Supply Freeze

    Cartel plans to stick with current quotas until July.

    LONDON -- OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez said the oil cartel plans to maintain stringent oil production curbs for the rest of this year as it tries to lift world prices by at least 10 percent from current levels.

    The global recession was still restricting demand growth for oil, but Rodriguez said OPEC and other exporters had managed to prevent a price collapse by cooperating over supply cuts. Previously OPEC had hoped to lift crude oil output in the third or fourth quarters to meet a recovery in demand fueled by economic growth, according to Reuters.

    Rodriguez said the cartel would stick to current quotas until July regardless of whether or not rival oil power Russia agreed to prolong its own curbs, now just valid until the end of March.

    Crude prices crashed through the bottom of OPEC's $22-$28 target range in September last year, ending a two-year price boom, when the attacks on the United States exacerbated the economic slowdown. Cheaper oil prices are helping world economies recover from recession, but have put a squeeze on OPEC member country budgets, triggering a currency devaluation in Latin American producer Venezuela.

    OPEC, which controls more than half world exports, made its fourth cut in a year in January bringing total curbs to five million barrels a day, or 19 percent. Rodriguez said he expected prices to return to the cartel's target range of $22 to $28 per barrel in the second half of the year, probably in the fourth quarter.

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