* Nikkei slumps in early trade despite upbeat retail sales data
* Major currencies stick to ranges; Ukraine crisis supports yen
By Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, April 28 Asian shares began the week under a cloud on Monday, after a dismal week on Wall Street and against the backdrop of increasing tension in Ukraine.
Pro-Russian rebels paraded European monitors they are holding in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, freeing one but saying they had no plans to release another seven as the United States and Europe prepared new sanctions against Moscow.
The leader of detained monitors said on Sunday that all in group were in good health, but they were anxious to be allowed to go home soon.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.1 percent in early trade.
Japan's Nikkei stock average opened down 0.9 percent, despite data released before the market opened showing retail sales rose in March at their fastest pace in 17 years ahead of a sales tax hike.
Caution ahead of central bank meetings this week, as well as key U.S. jobs data on Friday, also kept investors wary.
Federal Reserve policymakers will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday and are expected to unanimously decide to continue tapering the central bank's massive bond-buying stimulus for now. Policymakers were expected to hotly debate future actions, such as what economic conditions would set the stage for a rate hike.
"With the steady improvement in U.S. labor data, there exists a very small tail risk of a more hawkish lean," strategists at Citi wrote in a note to clients.
The Bank of Japan will release new economic projections following its meeting on Wednesday.
The BOJ will likely keep its inflation forecast for fiscal 2015 roughly unchanged from the current 1.9 percent, and is also set to estimate fiscal 2016 inflation close to 2 percent, signalling that it is optimistic of achieving sustained price rises over a longer time frame, sources have told Reuters.
Tokyo markets will be closed for a holiday on Tuesday.
On Wall Street on Friday, the three main U.S. stock indexes all fell for both the session and the week, as disappointing earnings from Amazon and Ford on Thursday and the rising Ukraine tensions sapped sentiment.
Investors in Asia will also keep a close eye on China's yuan, after it hit a 16-month low for the third straight day on Friday.
Major currency pairs remained locked in recent ranges, with the heightened Ukraine crisis bolstering the safe-haven yen.
The dollar inched down 0.1 percent to 102.11 yen, while the euro was slightly lower at bought 141.30 yen .
The dollar index was steady at 79.731, after edging down 0.1 percent last week. The euro was also treading water at $1.3839 after it added 0.2 percent last week. (Editing by Shri Navaratanam)
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