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UPDATE 1-Turkey's exports hit record $15.1 bln in March - economy minister

(Adds data from Turkish Exporters' Assembly, background)

ISTANBUL, April 1 (Reuters) - Turkey's exports reached a record $15.1 billion in March, economy minister Nihat Zeybekci said on Sunday during a televised interview on private broadcaster CNNTurk.

"We reached the highest number in our history in exports, $15.1 billion," Zeybekci said.

The Turkish Exporters' Assembly (TIM) also said in a statement on Sunday that the country's exports rose 11.5 percent year-on-year in March to exceed $15 billion for the first time.

It said exports in the last 12 months had risen 10.5 percent to around $160 billion.

Data from Turkey's official statistics institute on Friday showed exports stood at $13.18 billion in February. They also showed Turkey's trade deficit had widened 54.2 percent year-on-year to $5.76 billion.

TIM President Mehmet Buyukeksi said the assembly was aiming for exports to exceed $170 billion at the end of the year.

Zeybekci also said he expected tourism revenues to reach $51-52 billion in 2018 from around $26 billion in 2017.

Tourism, a major source of funding to plug Turkey's persistent current account deficit, is recovering from a sharp downturn caused by bomb attacks, diplomatic disputes and a failed coup.

Foreign arrivals surged over 27 percent in 2017 to 32.4 million, largely boosted by Russian tourists after Turkey patched up a rift with Moscow, concerns over security eased and the sector offered discounts to attract customers. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Behiye Selin Taner; Editing by Mark Potter)