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French inflation confirmed at 5-1/2 year high of 1.7 pct in March

PARIS, April 12 (Reuters) - France's 12-month inflation rate reached 1.7 percent in March, its highest level since October 2012 and in line with a previous estimate, according to final EU-harmonised data released on Thursday from the INSEE national statistics office.

The 12-month rate was in-line with an earlier, flash estimate from INSEE that had also given a 1.7 percent inflation rate for March.

Inflation within the euro zone has been below the European Central Bank's (ECB) target for an inflation level of almost 2 percent, even though the region's economy has been showing signs of strength.

Financial markets expect the ECB to stop buying bonds by the end of the year, and then raise interest rates for the first time since 2011 sometime in the second quarter of next year, even as inflation remains short of the ECB's target.

BACKGROUND

French EU-harmonised inflation fell to a historical low of -0.8 percent in July 2009 and hit an all-time high of 4.0 percent in July 2008, according to INSEE's records going back to 1991.

FOR DETAILS FROM INSEE

http://www.insee.fr/en/themes/info-rapide.asp?id=29

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Bate Felix)