Adds details, recasts
MADRID, April 25 (Reuters) - Spain's unemployment rate edged closer to 15 percent in the first quarter, data showed on Thursday, highlighting a continuing weak link in the economy days before a hotly contested national election.
The rate rose to 14.7 percent in the January to March period from to 14.45 percent in the last three months of 2018, marking the first quarter on quarter rise since the beginning of last year. A Reuters poll had forecast a fall to 14.38 percent.
Spanish unemployment tends to rise at the beginning of the year as the end of the busy holiday and shopping season prompts layoffs of temporary posts across the service sector, which accounts for around half of the country's economic output.
Spain's recovery from recession is entering its sixth year and economic issues have largely taken a back seat in the campaign for Sunday's election.
But the unemployment rate remains the second highest in the European Union, and that unwelcome distinction resurfaced in a televised debate between party leaders on Tuesday.
In a calculated attack on Socialist Pedro Sanchez, the outgoing Prime Minister and election frontrunner, Albert Rivera of centre-right Ciudadanos dubbed Spain "the European joblessness champion", while conservative PP leader Pablo Casado made an unflattering comparison with thrice bailed-out Greece.
Spain's jobless rate has nearly halved from its 2013 peak and, while the bulk of the recovery took place under Sanchez's PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy, unemployment has continued on a downward trajectory since the Socialist took office almost a year ago.
(Reporting by Paul Day and Joao Manuel Mauricio; Editing by John Stonestreet)
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