Spain's growth slowed but remained firm in the third quarter

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Madrid (AFP)

Spain's growth slowed but remained firm in the third quarter, official data showed Friday, just as the country emerges from 10 months of political crisis with the conservatives set to head up a minority government.

The Ine statistics agency said that GDP expanded by 0.7 percent compared to the previous three months, which had registered 0.8 percent growth.

Compared to the same period in 2015, the economy rose 3.2 percent from July to September, the same rate as in the second quarter.

This is well above the eurozone average of 1.6 percent in the second quarter -- the latest figures published by statistics agency Eurostat.

The GDP figure for the third quarter is the same as that predicted last month by the central bank, which pointed to a slight fall in exports compared to the previous three months.

But the central bank had said that household and company spending remained strong, as unemployment drops and interest rates remain low.

For 2016, the government predicts growth of 2.9 percent, while the central bank thinks it will be higher, at 3.2 percent.

The growth figure comes a day after the Ine agency said unemployment dropped to its lowest rate in six years at 18.9 percent in the third quarter, thanks in large part to the services sector during a bountiful summer season for tourism.

But far from welcoming the news, UGT, one of Spain's most influential unions, said many of the new jobs created were temporary and precarious.

Still, the drop was good news for acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is poised to re-take power at the head of a minority government, ending 10 months of political limbo following two inconclusive elections.

Rajoy, who first came to power in 2011, has long vaunted Spain's return to growth and drop in unemployment under his watch after a crisis that brought the country to the brink of economic collapse.

But opposition parties and other critics blast his sweeping spending cuts and say many of the jobs created are just short-term -- with some lasting as little as a week -- and very unstable.