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Japan stocks plunge 1.72% on quake, global worries

TOKYO, Mar 11 – Japanese shares plunged 1.72 percent on Friday, falling sharply in the closing minutes of trade after the country was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The Nikkei index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange fell 179.95 points to 10,254.43. The Topix index of all first section shares tumbled 1.7 percent, or 15.33 points, to 915.51.

The market was already weighed down before the earthquake by unrest in the Middle East, eurozone debt worries, a wider-than-expected US trade deficit and China\’s announcement of a rare trade deficit for February.

It was too early to assess the economic damage, but the quake, centred in northeast Japan, was a potentially destructive 8.9 magnitude and caused a tsunami 10 metres (33 feet) high.

Amid the early damage was a fire blazing at an oil refinery near Tokyo.

Trading volume spiked as the quake spurred last-minute selling, topping 3.15 billion shares, easily the most this year so far.

Among major share movers, Honda Motor, Kyocera, and Fast Retailing all finished sharply down, falling 2.6 percent to 3,310 yen, 3.0 percent to 8,170 yen and 2.9 percent to 12,250 yen.

Snack food maker Calbee, making its debut on the Tokyo exchange\’s first section, closed at 2,221 yen, up 5.8 percent from its 2,100 yen IPO price.

Tokyo followed global markets lower after a sovereign downgrade for Spain raised eurozone debt fears and turmoil in Saudi Arabia raised concerns of higher oil prices impacting global growth.

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The yen fell to below 83 to the dollar as dealers rushed away from the earthquake risk, but recovered in the late afternoon to 82.89 to the greenback, compared with 82.91 in New York late Thursday.

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