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European and US shares fell sharply Wednesday amid a global market sell-off triggered by investor worries about the slide in oil prices and China's economic outlook.

Europe's blue-chip Stoxx 50 dropped 3.2 per cent to 2,740.28 points in morning trading as oil prices slumped to a fresh 12-year low and uncertainty about the US Federal Reserve's plans for interest rates in the world's largest economy.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 476 points, or nearly 3 per cent, in morning trading. The Standard and Poor's 500 Index fell 53 points, or 2.8 per cent.

The fall in the index was reflected across major national bourses in Europe with markets in London, Frankfurt and Paris all posting big losses.

Shares on East Asian markets tumbled early Wednesday amid falling crude oil prices and concerns about the state of the Chinese economy.

In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average and the broader Topix index were both down 3.7 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 3.8 per cent at the close of trading.

The SSE Composite Index in China fell 1.03 per cent, a day after China reported that its 2015 economic growth was the slowest in a quarter of a century.

In South Korea, the benchmark Kospi index shed 2.34 per cent to close at a five-month low on falling oil prices and uncertainty about the economy in neighbouring China.

The main index of Seoul's technology-heavy Kosdaq market retreated 1.7 per cent.

After a Monday decline in the wake of the lifting of international sanctions against Iran, oil prices renewed their downward momentum Wednesday, with the price of benchmark North Sea Brent with a delivery in March sliding to 28.14 dollars - down 64 cents from Tuesday.

Oil prices have come under pressure since the start of the year as concerns about the impact on the global economy of China's growth slowdown have gained momentum.

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