The number of registered unemployed in Spain rose to 4.42 million at the end of December, the highest level since the figures first began being collected in 1996, the labour ministry said Tuesday. \"The figures for the number of registered unemployed for the month of December confirm the deterioration of the economic situation during the second half of the year,\" it said in a statement. The ranks of the unemployed rose in December from the same year-ago period by 322,286, or 7.86 percent. The rising jobless numbers add to huge challenges facing Spain\'s new conservative government, which has vowed to make fighting unemployment and fixing the country\'s finances its top priorities. The National Statistics Institute, which uses a different method of calculation to the labour ministry, says the number of unemployed rose to 4.978 million people in the third quarter from 4.834 million in the previous three months. According to those figures, the Spanish unemployment rate soared to a 15-year high of 21.52 percent in the third quarter, the highest among major industrialised nations. Spain has struggled to find jobs for the millions thrown out of work by the collapse of a labour-intensive property bubble in 2008.