European shares closed sharply lower on Thursday, after a heavy sell-off on fears of a possible unwinding of monetary easing in the U.S., and weak economic numbers from China.
(Read More: Global Markets Feel the Fed Tapering Sting)
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 Index closed provisionally down 2.9 percent at 1,146.22 points, and all major European indexes tumbled by around 3 percent. The downturn accelerated after the Euro STOXX 50 broke below a key support level.
Meanwhile, the Euro STOXX Volatility Index rose by 15.7 percent.
A global sell-off restarted on Thursday, after Fed Chairman said the central bank could start to wind down its $85 billion a month asset purchasing program this year, if the U.S. economy continues to improve. The extra liquidity created by the program has been cited by analysts as the reason for this year's strong stock market rally.
(Read More: Taper Tipoff? Bernanke Hints Easing End Is Nearing)
In Asia, markets took another hit when a preliminary reading of China's HSBC Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) showed manufacturing activity fell to a 9-month low in June.
(Read More: Asia Gets Double Blow From Fed, China PMI)
Cyclicals such as autos and basic resources led shares lower in Europe, after the news from China, as the coutnry is the world's top consumer of metals and a major importer of European consumer goods. The auto sector closed provisionally 4.2 percent lower.