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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's economy grew at its fastest pace in two years during the first quarter, the central bank said Friday, boosted by stronger domestic demand and a pick-up in exports.

Southeast Asia's third-biggest economy expanded 5.6 percent on-year in January-March period, compared with 4.1 percent in the same period last year and 4.5 percent in October-December.

The result -- much better than the 4.8 percent forecast in a survey by Bloomberg News -- marks the third consecutive quarter of improving growth and is the fastest since the start of 2015.

"It's a lot stronger than expected and it was partly due to a rebound in exports and commodity prices," said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB Private Banking.

Bank Negara said growth would be sustained this year as the global economy showed signs of improvement, while domestic demand remained healthy.

"The economy is on track to register higher growth in 2017," Bank Negara said via a statement.

"Domestic demand is projected to continue to expand. Exports are expected to benefit from the improvement in global growth."

The figures come after export-reliant Malaysia recovers from years of falling oil prices and weak overseas demand.

The economy is forecast to grow 4.3-4.8 percent this year but Bank Negara said in March that rising protectionism remains a risk.

Growth hit 4.2 percent last year, slowing from 5.0 percent in 2015 and 6.0 percent in 2014.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2017

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