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Greece promises return to markets despite spat with lenders

Associated Press logo Associated Press 22/12/2016

ATHENS, Greece — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised to return the country to international bond markets in 2017, despite delays in a bailout review and a spat with rescue lenders over a pre-Christmas welfare program.

Tsipras said Thursday that an easing of Greece's chronic fiscal problems would lead to a market return — for only the second time since the country first requested an international bailout in 2010.

"Greece now has the fundamental elements in place to be on course to access markets in 2017 on its own," Tsipras said during an event in Athens organized by the European Investment Bank.

Greece is currently on its third rescue program, paid by its partners in the 19-country eurozone and monitored in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund. But the latest review has been delayed by disagreement over labor reforms and budget surplus targets.

The delay could hold up future bailout installments and hurt Athens' chances of joining the European Central Bank's bond-buying support program.

Tsipras' government is at odds with bailout lenders over a decision earlier this month to pay low income pensioners an additional Christmas benefit and delay a sale tax hike on islands affected by the refugee crisis.

In response, creditors suspended debt relief measures which they described as unilateral.

Greece has seen a dramatic rise in poverty since the start of the financial crisis, with nearly a quarter of the country out of work and receiving no state benefits.

The Christmas payout was granted before more pension cuts are due to take effect next year. Thousands of elderly Greeks waited in line outside banks Thursday to cash their checks.

In central Athens, pensioner Constantinos Skouras said he didn't qualify for the new benefit but was happy for those who did.

"It's a bonus that will help low income pensioners do some shopping for the holidays — for Christmas — to give something to their grandchildren," he said. "In any case, whatever they (the government) can give is good."

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