China's annual gross domestic product growth slowed in the first quarter to 6.1 percent from 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Thursday.

That marks the weakest growth since quarterly records began in 1992 and compares with economists' forecasts of a 6.3 percent rise.

The statistics agency did not give a year-on-year figure for the producer price index in March, but said it declined 0.3 percent in March compared with February, a smaller monthly rate of decline than in the previous two months.

China has started to implement a 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package to counter the impact of the global slowdown, helping prompt a surge in lending in the first three months of the year.

The overall national economy showed positive changes, with better performance than expected, the NBS said in a statement distributed ahead of a news conference.

It added that export demand had dropped sharply, causing declining profits for companies, reducing government revenues and increasing employment difficulties.

The national economy is confronted with the pressure of a slowdown, it said.

(We should) continuously improve macroeconomic policies and make efforts to realize sound and fast growth.

-- GDP in the first quarter hit 6.57 trillion yuan ($962 billion at current exchange rates).

-- Urban per-capita incomes were up 11.2 percent from a year earlier in real terms in Q1; rural per-capita incomes were up 8.6 percent in real terms.

-- A total of 1.62 million new jobs were created in urban areas.

(Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch and Zhou Xin; Editing by Jason Subler and Ken Wills)