UK stocks : FTSEurofirst 300 closes down 1.5 pct
The euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 index fell 2.3 percent to 2,579.76 points, marking a fresh low for 2013 and sending it to its lowest close since ending at 2,575.25 points on Nov. 30.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index also declined 1.5 percent to 1,151.61 points - its worst finish since ending on 1,148.28 points on Feb. 7.
Italy's benchmark FTSE MIB was Europe's worst-performing stock market, falling 3.1 percent, on uncertainty over the outcome of the elections on Feb. 23-24.
Most investors expect a centre-left government headed by Pier Luigi Bersani and backed by current prime minister Mario Monti to win and continue with reforms to tackle Italy's debt problems.
However, a resurgence by former leader Silvio Berlusconi has caused growing doubts over the outcome.
"If Berlusconi were to get more votes than currently forecast, and no government can be formed, it may provoke a market rout, with serious European contagion," said Integrated Asset Management head Emanuel Arbib.
The STOXX Europe 600 banking index, seen as the most sensitive to signs of problems in the euro zone, was the worst-performing equity sector, falling 2.5 percent.
Arbib said he was not taking any big trading positions ahead of the elections, and growing worries over the outcome were reflected in a rise in volatility on European markets,
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