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China urban jobless rate edges down to 4.08 percent at end-March

BEIJING, April 25 (Reuters) - China created 3.44 million new jobs in cities in the first three months of this year, bringing the urban jobless rate down slightly to 4.08 percent, the labour ministry said on Friday.

The figure at the end of December was 4.1 percent and the slight drop could offer the latest evidence that the country's job market was faring well despite a slowdown in the broader economy.

"Although the economy grew at a slower pace, the increase of each percentage point of GDP actually produces more jobs than before due to an improving economic structure," Li Zhong, the spokesman of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told reporters at a media briefing.

Beijing has repeatedly stressed that employment is the first priority for the government, and economists also say it is the top factor that may trigger big-scale stimulus measures if the economy continues to lose momentum.

China's economic growth dipped to a 18-month low in the first quarter, with exports, investment and credit all pointing to a weak showing, fanning worries about pressures on the job market.

The government has unveiled a slew of steps to boost employment, including extending tax breaks for entrepreneurs to the end of 2016 and broadened to include all industries and types of workers.

Li added that during the first three months of this year, nine out of China's 32 provinces raised monthly minimum wages by an average of 13.2 percent.

Beijing has mandated that minimum wages rise at least 13 percent a year during the course of the current five-year plan, which runs to 2015.

The government has pledged to create 85 million jobs in urban and rural areas between 2012 and 2015 while holding the jobless rate under 5 percent, underscoring its resolve to stave off any unrest that may flare up as China's economy slows.

The urban registered jobless rate is China's only official unemployment indicator, but some analysts say it may not be enough to truly reflect the employment situation as it excludes about 269 million migrant workers from its surveys.

(Reporting by Aileen Wang and Jonathan Standing; Editing by Kim Coghill)