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A day ahead of European Central Bank meeting, figures show eurozone retail sales slide in Dec

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In this Monday Feb. 3, 2014 photo, people look at a stand, at a street market, in Pamplona, northern Spain. The Spanish government figures show that number of people registered as unemployed rose by 113,097 in January as temporary job contracts created over Christmas came to an end. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos) (The Associated Press)

Official figures show that retail sales across the 18-country eurozone suffered their biggest drop in over two and a half years in the crucial shopping month of December.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, says retail sales across the bloc fell by 1.6 percent compared with the previous month. That was way worse than the 0.5 percent fall anticipated in the markets and represents the biggest monthly decline since May 2011.

The figures will likely reinforce the pressure on the European Central Bank to further ease its monetary policy at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

A broad range of economic indicators have shown that the recovery in the eurozone is failing to gain traction at a time when inflation rates are stubbornly low.