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Numbers of French unemployed keep rising

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde has said in an interview that the ranks of France's unemployed grew by between 60,000 and 70,000 in March. The official data are to be revealed later today.

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AFP - Between 60,000 and 70,000 people joined the ranks of France's jobless in March, slightly fewer than in February, Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said in an interview on Monday.

France had 2.38 million unemployed workers at the end of February after 79,900 lost their jobs in a single month as the economic crisis forced factories and businesses to close.

"In March, there were between 60,000 and 70,000 more job seekers," Lagarde told Le Figaro newspaper. Officials figures were to be announced later Monday.

On Sunday, Lagarde described the jobless data as "not catastrophic" but "not good news either."

"We have to expect bad figures for some time," she said, adding that even if the economy recovers, it will take some time for the positive effects to be felt in the job market.

The figure for March was also lower than in January when 90,200 people lost their jobs in France.

The French government expects the economy to shrink by 2.5 percent this year but is banking on a turnaround in 2010.

Independent economists expect French unemployment to cross the threshold of 10 percent at the beginning of 2010, up from its current rate of just over 8.2 percent.

French youth are the hardest hit, with unemployment among the under-25 age group hitting 21.2 percent at the end of last year.

But Employment Minister Laurent Wauquiez at the weekend said France was showing more resilience than its European neighbours, especially Spain which is on track to hit 20 percent unemployment this year.

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