China's benchmark stock index plummets 8 percent, spooking global markets

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped 8.5 percent in early Monday trading, wiping out the year's gains, as a string of weak economic data and Beijing's recent currency devaluations sent investors scrambling to safer assets. Other bourses in the region followed suit, with benchmark indexes from Hong Kong to Australia shedding more than 2 percent.

"Markets are panicking," said analyst Takako Masai at Shinsei Bank in Tokyo. "Things are starting look like the Asian financial crisis...

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