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French unemployment drops slightly from record highs

Philippe Huguen, AFP file picture | France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the latest figures were "an encouragement to build on"

After a string of record unemployment figures in recent months, France finally saw a slight improvement in January, with statistics published Wednesday showing 3.48 million people claiming jobless benefits.


The numbers showed a drop of 19,100 people in the jobless queue compared with January, when the figure had reached a record-high 3.496 million.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the figures were "an encouragement to build on".

However, the number of people with limited employment and still claiming benefits continued to rise, up 0.3 percent on January to a record 5.23 million.

President Francois Hollande has pledged not to seek re-election in 2017 if he fails to bring down stubbornly high unemployment -- but there have been few positive signs in recent months.

There were 189,100 more people out of work in 2014 than the previous year, an increase of 5.7 percent.

Growth registered a measly 0.3 percent in the last quarter.

The government has been through the grinder in the past week as it was forced to ram through a package of reforms aimed at kickstarting the economy.

The reforms -- which plan to extend Sunday shopping and open up key parts of the French economy to competition -- had to be passed by government decree to overcome opposition from within the ruling Socialist party's own ranks.

Hollande has also hinged his recovery hopes on a series of tax cuts for businesses known as the "Responsibility Pact", which he has offered in exchange for job creation.

Both sets of reforms have triggered huge street protests in France, and yet many of the country's European partners doubt whether they go far enough to boost its flagging economic fortunes.

Most economists believe that France, the eurozone's second largest economy, needs a growth rate of around 1.5 percent to create jobs.


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