March 26 (Reuters) - Gold prices rose early Monday to a five-week high as the threat of a trade war between the United States and China drove investors to seek refuge in safe assets. FUNDAMENTALS * Spot gold edged up 0.3 percent in early trade to hit $1,350.76 per ounce, its highest since Feb. 19, before easing back to be flat at $1,346.62 at 0113 GMT. * Gold rose 2.6 percent last week, its biggest weekly gain since September 2017. * U.S. gold futures for April delivery fell 0.2 percent to $1,346.70 per ounce. * Fears of a full-blown trade war between the U.S. and China battered Asian shares again on Monday, keeping the safe haven yen near a 16-month peak. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was flat at 89.432. * The U.S. has violated international trade rules with an inquiry into intellectual property and China is ready to defend its interests, Vice Premier Liu He told U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, state media said on Saturday. * Federal Reserve officials on Friday said they want to see more details about new tariff policies before deciding whether any policy response is warranted, holding to their view that more interest rate hikes are needed. * European Union leaders called on U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday to make permanent an EU exemption from U.S. metal import duties, saying they reserved the right to respond "in a proportionate manner" to protect the bloc's interests. * Trump's choice of John Bolton as national security adviser provoked strong reactions worldwide on Friday - and few stronger than in the bitterly-divided Middle East. * A senior Iranian official said on Sunday it was "shameful" that Trump had named Bolton as national security adviser because of his ties with rebels whom Iran sees as "terrorists", the state news agency IRNA reported. * Gold speculators cut their net long position by 23,822 contracts to 121,838 contracts, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed. * Physical gold demand in Asian hot spots slouched this week as higher global prices made buyers hold off on purchases and as discounts in India widened to their highest in 6-1/2 months. * Democratic Republic of Congo's mines minister rejected a proposal by mining companies on Friday to soften some provisions in a new mining code in exchange for higher royalties. (Reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)
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