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Russia economy minister says H1 GDP up 7.2 pct

MOSCOW, July 15 (Reuters) - Russia's Economy Minister German Gref said on Tuesday the country's gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 7.2 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2003, compared to 3.6 percent growth in the same period last year.

The economy ministry had said it would review its official full year 2003 GDP growth forecast of 4.6 percent after data for the first six months became available.

Russia, the world's second largest crude oil exporter, had been aiming for 3.5-4.4 percent GDP growth in 2003 depending on global crude prices, but in May economy ministry officials raised their forecast after a strong start to the year.

Last month, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov -- under pressure from the Kremlin to speed economic growth -- made an even higher forecast of 5.5 percent GDP growth for the whole year.

"We have calculated GDP figures today and growth was 7.2 percent in the January-June period," Russian television showed Gref telling President Vladimir Putin, who has set an ambitious target to double the size of the economy within 10 years.

Investment in the economy rose by 11.9 percent in the first six months, agencies quoted Gref as saying in the meeting.

Gref also said he expected investment to slow down in the second half of the year but to show a healthy rise of nine percent in full year 2003, the agencies said. Investments rose 2.6 percent last year.

The economy ministry had said that faster-than-expected growth this year would stem from a strong performance by the industrial and services sector, healthy domestic demand and robust exports.

Economists' estimates for Russia's GDP growth this year range from 4.5 to more than six pecent thanks to high global crude oil and commodities prices as well as rising investment.

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