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By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New applications for unemployment benefits held near their pre-recession levels last week, offering further evidence of the economy's underlying strength. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits ticked up 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000 for the week ended April 12, the Labor Department said on Thursday. A Labor Department analyst said no states were estimated and there were no special factors influencing the state level data. The claims data covered the survey week for April nonfarm payrolls.