Bangkok - Asian shares extended losses on Wednesday as the unrest in Libya pushed oil prices higher and sent Wall Street sharply lower.
Oil prices rose to fresh two-year highs near $96 a barrel in Asia amid trader concern a violent power struggle in Libya could disrupt crude supplies. In currencies, the dollar fell against the yen and the euro.
Sentiment in the region remained fragile after a defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed in a televised speech on Tuesday to fight to his "last drop of blood" and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled North African regime.
Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average shed 0.8% to 10 574.62. A stronger yen hurt exporters, with Nissan losing 2.3%, Toyota down 1.3% and Canon dropping 1.3%.
South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.4%to 1 962.02, dragged down by high-tech giants. Samsung lost 0.6%, Hynix Semiconductor slumped 3.8% and LG Electronics was down 1.3%.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.4% to 22 906.91, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.3% to 4 842.60. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Singapore also retreated.
New Zealand's main stock index rose 0.4% to 3 372.07 a day after a powerful earthquake devastated the city of Christchurch. Prime Minister John Key declared a state of national emergency and said at a news conference that 75 people were confirmed to have been killed, with 55 of them identified.
Benchmarks in Shanghai and Bangkok also rose.
Political turmoil in the Arab world, rising oil prices and increasing costs of food combined to send traders out of equities in search of safer investments.
Strategists at Nomura International Ltd. in Hong Kong said that the unpredictability of events and the potential for the unrest to spread "mean that equity markets settling back into equilibrium is still some way off."
"The biggest worry would be if social tensions appeared in Saudi Arabia," the strategists said.
Rising food prices due to unseasonal weather also heightened risk, Nomura said. Although the exact causes of rising food prices are up for debate, one common factor is extreme weather.
Floods in Australia, Pakistan and India have forced up food prices, as have droughts in Argentina and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, China's worst drought in six decades is pushing up global wheat prices - already up a third since mid-November.
In New York on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average sank 178.46 points, to close at 12 212.79. Bond prices rose as investors sought safety.
Oil prices soared to the highest level in more than two years. The fight between protesters and forces loyal to Gadhafi threatens oil production from the world's 15th largest oil exporter, accounting for 2% of global daily output. Libya also sits atop the largest oil reserves in Africa.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 27.57, to 1 315.44. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 77.53, to 2 756.42.
Meanwhile, US investors are awaiting a report from the National Association of Realtors on January sales of previously owned homes later Wednesday.
In currencies, the dollar fell to ¥82.55 from ¥82.71 late on Tuesday. The euro was up $1.3691 from $1.3662.
Benchmark crude for March delivery was up 30c at $95.72 a barrel, the highest since October 2008, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $5.71, to settle at $95.42 on Tuesday.