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Bottler Coca-Cola HBC's Q1 loss larger than expected

ATHENS, May 16 (Reuters) - Coca-Cola HBC (CC HBC) , the world's No. 2 bottler of Coca-Cola Co drinks, posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss, hurt by currency losses mainly in its Ukrainian operations.

The bottler reported a net loss of 35.8 million euros ($49.1 million) in the first three months of the year, excluding restructuring and other one-off items, versus analysts' average forecast of a 17 million euro loss in a Reuters poll.

The sharp devaluation in the Ukrainian hryvnia against the euro due to political tensions in the country hurt CC HBC's results and the group warned foreign exchange losses for the full year would be higher than initially expected.

The bottler said currency losses would be around 90-100 million euros this year versus the 51-70 million euros projected in February, but it was taking action including extra cost cutting in Ukraine and Russia to mitigate the impact.

CC HBC reiterated its guidance for free cash flow of about 1.3 billion euros in the 2013-2015 period.

The bottler buys syrup concentrate from Coca-Cola and then bottles and distributes the U.S. group's drinks in 28 countries in Europe and Nigeria.

The company made about 22 percent of sales last year in Russia, its main growth driver in recent years, which has more than offset weakness in markets such as Italy and Greece.

Volume in the quarter - CC HBC's least significant trading period - dropped 4 percent to 410 million unit cases, hurt by the later celebration of Easter, when consumers typically drink more beverages and which fell in the second quarter this year, and lower demand in Ukraine.

The company said sales in Russia grew by a high single digit percentage in the first quarter.

($1 = 0.7291 Euros) (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Mark Potter)