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Greece is back, market return in sight, says Samaras

By Renee Maltezou & Deepa Babington

Greece has put the worst of a debt crisis behind it and is considering issuing new debt within three months, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told Reuters on Wednesday.

Greece has enjoyed a sharp revival of fortunes since its debt burden nearly sent it crashing out of the eurozone two years ago. Its economy is set to emerge from a six-year recession this year while bond market yields imply its borrowing costs have dropped to four-year lows.

"Greece is back," Samaras told Reuters at the prime minister's Maximos mansion office in Athens.

"Two years ago, we were the epicenter of financial instability in the area, and we were an unstable country in a relatively stable region. Now the situation is totally different: Greece has stabilized, both politically and economically and there is growing instability around Greece."

He was speaking on Wednesday, a day after Athens secured 8.3 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in fresh aid from eurozone finance ministers, paving the way for the country to meet debt obligations in May and boosting expectations of a return to bond markets to end its four-year exclusion.

"The timing of any such offering is subject to market conditions and we have not ruled out the possibility of coming to market as early as during the first half of 2014," he said.

Officials have previously told Reuters that Athens is eyeing a sale of between 1.5 billion-2 billion euros of five-year bonds in a test issue as it tries to get back on its feet after two bailouts worth 240 billion euros from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Samaras, who took power in 2012 at the height of the debt crisis, saw early signs that the economy is recovering along with market sentiment, citing new business start-ups that are creating jobs for youth.

"We've hit rock bottom and now this is the curve going up," he said. "We are at the very beginning of the curve going up."

Athens expects gross domestic product to post modest growth of 0.6 percent this year after a brutal recession that left the economy a quarter smaller.

"The most important words now are stability and growth," Samaras said. "I must not lose my direction, straight all the way, I'm not going to zig zag."

Record unemployment and cash problems facing companies and households remained significant issues, but Greece has now turned a page on the crisis, he said.

"The image and the perception of Greece internationally has changed also. This is a new psychology and this is a new sentiment taking place in Greece and this is why I'm saying Greece is back," Samaras said.

[Reuters]

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