The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged as economic growth slows and the region's debt crisis spreads to Italy and Spain, increasing pressure on policy makers to resume bond purchases.

ECB officials meeting in Frankfurt today kept the benchmark rate at 1.5 percent after lifting it by 25 basis points last month, as predicted by all 54 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. With yields on Italian and Spanish bonds near euro-era records and the economy showing signs of weakening, investors have reduced bets that the ECB will add to its two rate increases in 2011, even as some Governing Council members push for more monetary tightening to tame inflation.

"Economic growth has gone beyond moderation — in fact we're flirting with recession — and financial market tensions have intensified," said Ken Wattret, chief euro-area economist at BNP Paribas SA in London. "The question is: Will there merely be a pause, or is the tightening cycle over?"

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