Amid signs that the worst of the economic downturn is over, central banks in Europe, the UK and Canada left key interest rates at historic lows, while Iceland's and Russia's central banks reduced rates. The European Central Bank, which left its rate at 1%, said it will launch next month a previously announced programme to buy €60 billion in bonds. Also, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently slammed several central banks, including the ECB, spoke with ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, a source said. Merkel "confirmed to me she was fully respecting the independence of the ECB, fully backing what we were doing", Trichet said.

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