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Hong Kong shares fall at opening

Shares plunged 13 percent today on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, dragged down by Wall Street's slump.

The blue-chip Hang Seng index opened sharply down and got steadily worse. In 75 minutes it lost 1,372.09 points, to 9,126.11 points. It shed 646.14 points, or 5.79 percent, on Monday.

Traders were nervous at the 10 a.m. (9 p.m. EST) opening, having awakened to news that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 554.26, or 7.18 percent, to 7,161.15. It was the Dow's biggest point drop.

Before Tuesday's drop, the Hang Seng had fallen 22.8 percent in six trading sessions.

Unlike the New York Stock Exchange, Hong Kong's market has no mechanism to shut down trading in volatile circumstances.

Hong Kong, where a 10 percent crash Thursday sent shivers around the world, lost 5.8 percent on the Hang Seng Index on Monday _ almost wiping out the nearly 7 percent recovery it made Friday.

Until last week's crash, Hong Kong had appeared a pillar of strength amid a region teetering on weak national currencies. That changed when Hong Kong's currency _ the only one in the region still pegged to the U.S. dollar _ came under speculative attack and government countermeasures sent interest rates soaring. This in turn drove down stocks, especially in banking and real estate.

In Tokyo today, the Nikkei Stock Average tumbled 620.88 points, or 3.6 percent, to close the morning session at 16,417.48. It was the lowest level so far this year for the benchmark indicator of 225 blue-chip stocks.

On Monday, the Nikkei lost 325.38 points, or 1.87 percent, closing at 17,038.36 points, the lowest in more than two years.

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