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French unemployment rate climbs to 10.2%

[PARIS] France's unemployment climbed to a near 18-year high of 10.2 per cent in the third quarter, the national statistics agency said Thursday, in a setback for the Socialist government just days before regional elections.

The number of unemployed rose by 75,000 over the quarter to stand at 2.9 million people, according to a survey conducted by the Insee statistics agency using international standards.

The rise in the unemployment rate by 0.2 percentage points came despite the French economy returning to growth in the third quarter with a 0.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter expansion.

The data will be a thorn in the side for France's ruling Socialists with regional elections being held this weekend and unemployment a key concern among voters.

President Francois Hollande has vowed not to seek re-election in 2017 if his administration fails to reduce the country's joblessness.

While the French government expects the economy to expand by at least 1.1 per cent this year and 1.5 per cent in 2016, economists say this is too slow a rate to create enough jobs to bring down the unemployment rate.

Unemployment, as measured by claims for benefits, has also been increasing, recording its fastest climb in two years in October.

France's rising joblessness contrasts with the trend in the eurozone, where unemployment dipped to a four-year low of 10.7 per cent in October.

Including overseas territories, France's unemployment rate was 10.6 per cent in the third quarter.