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ECB spent $32 billion last week on bond purchases
European Central bank spends $32 billion last week to prop up Spain, Italy
By The Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) ' The European Central Bank spent euro22 billion ($31.7 billion) last week buying up government bonds in an effort to keep Italy and Spain from financial disaster.

The purchases have driven down the high interest yields that were threatening those countries' finances.

The ECB reactivated the bond-buying program after leaving it idle for four months when the financial crisis worsened earlier this month.

The bank stepped in because the eurozone's bailout fund has not yet received permission from national governments to carry out such purchases.

The purchases disclosed Monday exceeded those the bank made in May, 2010 when it first launched emergency purchases of Greek bonds. Then, it bought euro16.5 billion.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BERLIN (AP) ' Two leading German ministers reiterated their opposition to issuing jointly guaranteed European government bonds as a means to end the eurozone's crippling debt crisis, a day ahead of a summit between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told German news magazine Der Spiegel in its edition dated Monday that so-called eurobonds are out of the question as long as the currency zone's 17 nations still run their own fiscal policy, and that different interest rates for eurozone nations were needed to provide "incentives and the possibility of sanctions to enforce solid financial policy."

Schaeuble acknowledged that the EU must, and will, beef up its response to the crisis to assist the heavily indebted nations, but that "there won't be a collectivization of debt or unlimited assistance."

Merkel has long ruled out eurobonds, and Economy Minister Philipp Roesler joined the chorus Monday, describing jointly guaranteed debt as "the wrong way" out of the crisis.

"Eurobonds would mean that everybody shares the same interest burden which would be a punishment for (financially) sound nations," he was quoted as saying by German news agency dapd. "We cannot want this for Germany and for all other good states."

Eurobonds would be a major step toward the bloc's economic integration, and are billed by supporters as an overnight solution to the crisis. Italy, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg are among the nations calling for eurobonds.

The proponents of eurobonds say they could drive down the borrowing costs for troubled eurozone countries immediately. On the other side, Germany has taken the lead, arguing that cheap credit without a powerful European institution overseeing the member states' budget and fiscal policy cannot be a solution.

The debate over eurobonds has ratcheted up ahead of Tuesday's meeting in Paris between Merkel and Sarkozy, though spokesmen for both leaders insisted that the topic would not be on the agenda.

"Eurobonds won't be an issue at the meeting tomorrow in Paris," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed Monday.

Instead, he said the two leaders will discuss strengthening financial and economic cooperation and governance across the eurozone.

"This is one of the lessons from the euro crisis ... we need a stronger economic cooperation across the eurozone," he added, declining to specify which concrete proposals will be discussed at the meeting.

An official in the French presidency also said that eurobonds were not on Tuesday's agenda.

The Franco-German summit follows a volatile period in global markets that saw investors increasingly worry that Europe's debt crisis would spread from the relatively small economies of Greece, Ireland and Portugal to much bigger Spain and Italy.

And last week, France was caught in the crossfire, with investors worrying about the financial health of the country's banks in particular and whether the country would be the next country after the U.S. to lose its triple-A credit rating. Shares in French banks plunged midweek before stabilizing along with the wider markets towards the end of the week.

While stocks took a pounding last week, Italian and Spanish bonds were boosted by the European Central Bank's decision to buy them up, in an attempt to drive down high interest yields that threatened those countries.

The bank is shouldering the burden of fighting the crisis until national parliaments approve new powers for the European Union's bailout so it can buy government bonds or help recapitalize banks if necessary.

The focus in the markets later will be ECB figures indicating how much the bank splashed out last week supporting the bond markets of Italy and Spain./


Keller reported from Paris; AP Business Writer David McHugh also contributed from Frankfurt.

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