Nervous investors around the world rushed to the perceived safety of gold and bonds Friday ahead of the closely-watched weekend referendum in Crimea.

It's been a bad week for global markets as the faceoff between Russia and the West showed no sign of easing any time soon. The big worry is that Sunday's vote will encourage Russia to move troops further into Ukraine.    

The Russian stock market's benchmark index tumbled more than three per cent Friday and is off almost 10 per cent on the week as investors reacted to the increasing likelihood of damaging sanctions. The ruble fell to an all-time low. 

"The geopolitical risks are back at the forefront of investors' minds," said Jeanne Asseraf-Bitton, head of global research at Lyxor Asset Management.

Germany's main stock index fell more than four per cent this week, its biggest weekly drop in almost two years. German companies have extensive business ties to Russia.  

Gold at 6-month high

In Japan, the benchmark Nikkei index fell 3.3 per cent Friday and slumped more than six per cent on the week. The Ukraine crisis sent the yen, which is seen as a safe haven, soaring against the euro and the dollar. That hurt the stocks of Japanese exporters. 

"Investors are unwinding their long positions in the Nikkei and short positions in the yen," Kyoya Okazawa of BNP Paribas said.

Gold, another popular safe haven investment, gained another $12 to $1,385 US an ounce, a fresh six-month high.

North American markets ended the day down slightly on Friday following big selloffs on Thursday, when the Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 231 points and the S&P/TSX composite index shed 74 points.

Toronto's resource-rich stock market has also been hurt by signs this week that China's economy is slowing.  

With files from Reuters