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Greece planning return to bond markets with or without ECB support

Greece will return to financing itself on international bond markets with or without the support of the European Central Bank's (ECB) bond-buying programme, the country's finance minister said.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said that qualifying for the ECB's bond-buying programme, which has helped keep a lid on the borrowing rates of the other 18 countries that use the euro currency, would have a largely "symbolic" effect.

Greece has been excluded from the programme partly because the ECB wants more information about potential debt relief measures for the country.

"It would be very useful. It is important, but mostly in symbolic terms," Mr Tsakalotos said at a financial conference near Athens.

"What we need to do is ensure that the investment community knows there will be a programme of access to the markets."

Mr Tsakalotos said the government is mindful of not tapping bond markets for financing "too early" and that investors know it is not going to be a one-off.

"But when we do go, we want to ensure that the markets know that it's part of a strategy of going two, three, four times so they understand not the details but the process," he said.

Greece has been eyeing a return to international bond markets for the second time since the country lost access in 2010 and had to seek successive bailouts from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to speak at the conference later on Thursday.

Interest rates on Greek bonds have fallen sharply since rescue lenders promised this month to restart paying loan instalments, following a major new round of reforms and austerity measures in the recession-weary country.

Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone financial rescue fund, also said Greece was poised to return to the bond market, but blamed delays on an "unfortunate reversal of the reform process" in the early stages of the left-wing government.

"The Greek people... have suffered many years of salary and pension cuts.

"This was a painful experience and initially negative for growth.

"But the adaptation was unavoidable, and a consequence of past policy mistakes," Mr Regling said.

Meanwhile, Greek municipal garbage collectors decided to return to work on Thursday after nearly two weeks of protests that left mounds of uncollected refuse in the streets amid a heatwave.

The workers' union, which wants employees on fixed-time contracts to be granted full-time jobs, said rubbish collection lorries would hit the streets after midnight.

Greek authorities had warned that the strike was endangering public health and causing problems during the country's main tourist season.

Earlier on Thursday, about 1,000 garbage collectors marched peacefully through central Athens.

AP

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