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BEIJING, Feb 3 (Reuters) - A top Chinese newspaper stepped up Beijing's opposition to a Western push for tighter sanctions against Iran, warning on Friday that tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme are hurting energy markets and could stifle the global economic recovery.
China's criticism of tighter sanctions on Iran, designed to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, appeared in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
It comes a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Beijing to use its influence to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapons programme.
"The global economy is in the midst of a difficult economic recovery and reducing the shocks of uncertainties is the common responsibility of countries all over the world," the People's Daily commentary said.
"In the near term, the sudden spike in tensions between the United States and Iran is now posing the greatest uncertainty. This factor is disrupting global energy markets and has cast a shadow over the global economic recovery."
The commentary appeared under the pen-name of "Zhong Sheng", which in Chinese sounds like "Voice of the Centre" or "Voice of China", suggesting it reflects high-level government views.
China, the world's second-largest crude consumer, has long opposed unilateral sanctions that target Iran's energy sector and has tried to reduce tensions that could threaten its oil supply.
The energy tensions are a particular worry for China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil. Only Saudi Arabia and Angola sell more crude to China than Iran.
Escalating tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme -- which have led to Iranian threats to close the vital Straits of Hormuz Gulf oil export route -- have pushed up Brent crude prices by about 9 percent since mid-December.
On Thursday, at a joint media briefing after what Germany's Merkel described as "long discussions" about Iran, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao appeared to reject the pressure to do more.
He said Beijing objected to Western nations politicizing the "normal commercial relationship" it has with the Islamic Republic (of Iran), echoing language that China has used before.
Merkel, who is in China on a three-day visit, said on Thursday she hoped the U.N. Security Council could pass a unanimous resolution on the Iran issue.
The United States imposed the harshest sanctions on Iran when President Barack Obama signed into law sanctions on transactions involving Iran's central bank on Dec. 31.
The European Union imposed a ban on the import, purchase or transport of Iranian oil in January.
The commentary reiterated China's stance that dialogue should be used to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
China has backed U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to halt uranium enrichment activities, while working to ensure its energy ties are not threatened. In January, Wen forthrightly warned Tehran against any effort to acquire nuclear weapons. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ken Wills)