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A massive earthquake, registering 8.9 on the Richter scale, hit Tokyo and northern Japan, causing a tsunami which engulfed coastal towns and led to anxiety that damage to two nuclear power stations might lead to radiation leaks.

While Muammar Gaddafi's army made progress in recapturing some Libyan districts previously occupied by opposition forces, summit meetings of Nato and the European Union failed to reach agreement on military action against Gaddafi's regime. Britain and France took the lead in calling for no-fly zones while Germany was strongly opposed and the United States continued to say that “all options” were still on the table.

Spain's sovereign debt rating was reduced by one notch to Aa2 by the ratings agency Moody's because of worries about the potential cost of bailing-out its banks; Greece was downgraded by three notches to B1 over concerns that it might have to restructure its existing debt after 2013.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, criticised banks that made profits from “unsuspecting customers, particularly institutional customers” and said that banks which are “too big to fail” are tempted by excessive risk because they know the state will bail them out if necessary. On cue, the Royal Bank of Scotland, in which the government has a majority stake, revealed that its chief executive would receive a pay package worth 7.7 million pounds annually.