In Hong Kong the Hang Seng index tumbled 4.7 per cent to close at 13,456.33, its biggest one-day drop in three weeks.

South Korea's benchmark was down 3.2 per cent while markets in Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand fell 3 per cent or more.

In Japan analysts saw investors selling in a drive to lock in profits from this month's big rally caused by optimism that the global economy may be bottoming out.

The Nikkei had gained 20 per cent from a 26-year-low hit on March 10 through to last Friday.

"Stock rose incredibly quickly, so there was probably some adjustments taking place too,'' Toshikazu Horiuchi, an equity strategist at Cosmo Securities in Japan told the Associated Press.

Toyota Motor Corp. fell 3.7 per cent, Honda shed 6.7 per cent and Nissan Motor Co. dived 7.7 per cent.

A strengthening of the yen also sent tech shares broadly lower with electronics giant Sony losing 7.4 per and Sharp down 5.1 per cent.