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Europe unveils trillion-dollar crisis fund

Europe on Monday announced a trillion-dollar rescue package for crisis-hit euro countries backed by the IMF and central banks worldwide, sending the euro surging in Asian trade.

EU commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn (L) and Spainish Finance Minister Elena Salgado (R) give a joint press conference at the end of the extraordinary session of the ECOFIN council on May 10, 2010 at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
(AFP/Georges Gobet)

Leaders hope an unprecedented international intervention, officially running to more than 750 billion euros, will represent a game-changing financial war chest.

Essentially, Europe wants to leverage vast borrowings to prop up nations the way governments did their banks during the global financial crisis -- keeping interest rates down.

The Bank of Japan joined the European Central Bank (ECB) and those of Britain, Canada, Switzerland and the United States in coordinated moves aimed at nudging global money, debt and currency markets forward, which drew ringing endorsements from the Group of 20 leading world economies.

A statement issued by South Korea, which will chair a G20 summit in November following a summit hosted by Canada next month, said members remain "strongly committed" to working together to maintain global financial stability.

European Union finance ministers agreed, after marathon talks lasting more than 11 hours, that 440 billion euros would come from the troubled eurozone plus another 60 billion euros from the European Commission coffers.

That would be backed by "at least half as much" again from the International Monetary Fund, or another 250 billion euros.

The overall package was described as a series of "far-reaching steps" by IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The plan "proves that we shall defend the euro whatever it takes," said the EU's commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn.

The battered euro currency surged over the 1.29 level against the dollar in Asian trade, up from 1.2755 dollars in New York late Friday.

Last week, it had hit a 14-month low of 1.2523 dollars last week on fears that marbled European debts could hit the world's financial system in the same way the collapse of Lehman Brothers did two years ago.

Tokyo stocks also rose, and the European Central Bank subsequently said it would "conduct interventions in the euro area public and private debt securities markets."

The ECB said these were justified by "exceptional circumstances," and further announced that it along with central banks in Britain, Canada, Switzerland and the United States would intervene to ensure that dollar shortages do not occur in European markets.

Traders and analysts have been pushing in recent days and weeks for the Frankfurt-based institution to implement a so-called "nuclear" option, seeking its agreement to buy euro countries' bonds or accept toxic eurozone government debt as collateral.

The breakthrough followed urgent telephone calls during Sunday between US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The figures only emerged after Merkel lost her coalition's majority in the upper German house, as angry voters punished Berlin for its U-turn in agreeing a 110-billion-euro international bailout for Greece -- already dubbed the "fattest cheque in history" by the tabloid Bild.

Desperate to prevent a haemmorhaghing of confidence on markets with debts and deficits already engulfing Portugal, Spain and Italy, Berlin bit the bullet with an aid model that goes far beyond the system put in place for Greece, which won loan commitments over three years in exchange for radical cuts and other economic reforms.

The Greek rescue was only ratified by the IMF earlier on Sunday.

"The key is that something strong" was thrown down as a gauntlet to speculators, said French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Ministers had been tasked with heading off predatory threats to government finances, commercial banks and wider economic recovery, what Austria's Josef Proll labelled "the biggest challenge since the euro's creation."

Early drama saw Germany's wheelchair-bound Wolfgang Schaeuble hospitalised after suffering an allergic reaction to new medication, and kept in overnight for observation.

The talks were also marked by dispute as Britain's Labour government refused to provide direct guarantees for the euro, amid power-sharing talks at home that were likely to deliver a new Conservative-led government within days.

Spain and Portugal meanwhile committed to speed up the reduction of their public deficits this year and next.