ECB says bond purchases down sharply

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The European Central Bank said Monday it more than halved last week its weekly purchases of eurozone bonds that are part of a programme aimed at driving down borrowing costs and fighting the debt crisis.

The ECB said it bought up 3.662 billion euros ($4.9 billion) in bonds last week, compared to 8.581 billion euros the previous week.

The ECB, as usual, did not specify which government bonds it had bought.

The bank has now bought a total 207 billion euros in eurozone government bonds since it first began the controversial operations early last year as part of efforts to ease debt strains in the 17-nation bloc.

It resumed major purchases in August when renewed strains pushed Italian and Spanish borrowing rates to unsustainable levels.

According to a recent unconfirmed press report, the ECB has secretly set a 20-billion-euro limit on its weekly purchases of sovereign bonds.

Several European governments have put pressure on the ECB to step up its programme of buying bonds, seen by some as a possible solution to the debt crisis.

But the ECB, backed by Germany, has steadfastly refused, arguing that its sole responsibility is to keep eurozone prices stable.

© 2011 AFP

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