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Apr 24, 9:41 AM EDT

Spanish economic growth seen fastest since 2008

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MADRID (AP) -- Spain's economy expanded by 0.4 percent in the first quarter, the Bank of Spain estimated Thursday, the fastest growth in six years and further evidence the recovery is gathering steam.

The quarterly rate was double that of the previous three-month period largely on the back of a pick-up in domestic demand, the bank said. It was the strongest quarterly growth figure since the first three-month period of 2008, when the economy expanded by 0.5 percent.

The figures are provisional, with official figures to be released April 30 by the National Statistics Institute.

The country fell into the first of two severe recessions in the second half of 2008 after its bloated real estate sector collapsed. It finally emerged from the double-dip recession in the third quarter of 2013.

Compared with a year earlier, the economy grew by 0.5 percent in the first quarter, the first annual growth rate after nine quarters of contraction, the bank said.

For the whole of 2014, the bank is estimating growth of 1.2 percent before a further improvement the following year.

Unemployment remains a problem, however. It was 25.7 percent in the final quarter of 2013, the National Statistics Institute said Thursday. While that was down from a 26 percent rate previously reported, it remains near record highs. The figure for the first quarter of 2014 is due Tuesday.

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