Brent crude was steady above $117, after earlier touching near a four-week high, as investors awaited an expected positive U.S. March payroll report due later on Friday for clues to demand prospects by the world's largest oil importer.

Brent for May shed 10 cents to $117.26 a barrel at 0324 GMT after earlier touching $117.90, the highest price since March 7 and less than $2 from a 2-1/2-year high of almost $120 reached in February.

U.S. crude rose 36 cents to $107.08 after earlier touching $107.65, an intraday peak since September 2008.

Oil prices gained traction in the second half of this week after a report on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims fell last week and data pointed to improving employment in the Midwest.

The U.S. economy probably recorded a second straight month of solid job growth in March, when non-farm payrolls rose by 190,000 according to a Reuters poll, proof the labor market has turned the corner after lagging the broader economic recovery.

On Friday, Asian shares rose as markets digested news that China's official purchasing managers' index rose in March from a six-month low, but was still a touch under the Reuters median forecast.

The Chinese data is stronger than last month, but slightly lower than expected, said Serene Lim, a Singapore-based oil analyst at ANZ Bank.

The market is expecting some positive payroll data from the U.S. later today. In the past two days, the financial markets have been the main driver of higher crude oil prices, but in the back of every investor's mind there is the unrest in the Middle East and that is supporting the market.


In Libya, rebels on Thursday cheered the defection of the country's foreign minister as a sign that Muammar Gaddafi's rule was crumbling, but U.S. officials warned he was far from beaten and made clear they feared entanglement in another painful war.

Libya's top oil official said on Thursday he remained in Tripoli and the country was continuing to produce some oil, although output was much reduced.

In the Mideast Gulf, Bahrain has stepped up arrests of cyber activists and Shi'ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since it launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, the opposition said on Thursday.

Bashar al-Assad, the President of minor oil exporter Syria, has set up a committee to look into replacing a decades-old emergency law with anti-terrorism legislation after a wave of demonstrations for greater freedoms.

(Editing by Ed Lane)