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OPEC to maintain current production levels

VIENNA, Austria - OPEC on Wednesday accused the U.S. of economic 'mismanagement' that it said is pushing oil prices to new record highs and rebuffed calls to boost output, laying the blame on the Bush administration.

Oil prices surged for the first time past $104 a barrel after the OPEC announcement and the release of a U.S. government report showing a surprise drop in crude oil stockpiles.

The 13-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said it would maintain current production levels because crude supplies are plentiful and demand is expected to weaken in the second quarter.

OPEC President Chakib Khelil told reporters the global market is being affected by what he called 'the mismanagement of the U.S. economy,' and that America's problems were a key factor in the cartel's decision to hold off on any action.

'If the prices are high, definitely they are not due to a lack of crude. They are due to what's happening in the U.S.,' Khelil said. 'There is sufficient supply. There's plenty of oil there.'

Khelil's comments came one day after President Bush lashed out at the organization, warning Tuesday: 'I think it's a mistake to have your biggest customers' economies slowing down as a result of higher energy prices.'

White House spokesman Dana Perino said Wednesday that Bush was 'disappointed' OPEC didn't do more to rein in prices, which some say are pushing the U.S. economy into recession.

Analyst John Hall, of John Hall Associates in London, said OPEC probably should have added oil to the market as Bush had asked.