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A worker sprays a huge pile of garbage with disinfectant in Kaminia neighborhood of Piraeus, near Athens, Thursday, June 29, 2017. Greece's municipal garbage collectors are on 14-day protest that has left mounds of festering refuse piled up across Athens amid high summer temperatures.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
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Greece plotting return to markets with or without ECB

A worker sprays a huge pile of garbage with disinfectant in Kaminia neighborhood of Piraeus, near Athens, Thursday, June 29, 2017. Greece's municipal garbage collectors are on 14-day protest that has left mounds of festering refuse piled up across Athens amid high summer temperatures.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

LAGONISSI, Greece (AP) — Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said Thursday that his country will return to markets with or without the support of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program.

Tsakalotos said qualifying for the ECB’s quantitative easing program, which has helped keep a lid on the market rates of the other 18 euro countries, would have a largely “symbolic” effect. Greece has been excluded from the program partly because the ECB wants more information about potential debt relief measures for the country.

“I wouldn’t elevate it too high … It would be very useful. It is important, but mostly in symbolic terms,” Tsakalotos said at a financial conference near Athens.

“What we need to do is ensure is that the investment community knows there will be a program of access to the markets,” he said.

Tsakalotos said the government is mindful of not tapping markets “too early” and that investors know it’s 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 is 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 due to speak at the conference later Thursday.

Interest rates on Greek bonds have fallen sharply since rescue lenders promised this month to restart paying loan installments, 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 market, but blamed delays on an “unfortunate reversal of the reform process” in the early stages of the current 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,” Regling said.

The conference is taking place as nearby Athens contended with a strike of garbage collectors, which has left towering mounds of garbage on city streets at a time when the summer’s first heatwave sent temperatures soaring. A heatwave that began Thursday is predicted to see temperatures reach 42 degrees Celsius over the weekend.

Greek authorities have warned the strike is endangering public health and causing problems during the country’s main tourist season.

About 1,000 garbage collectors are marching through central Athens demanding an end to short-term labor contracts. The strikers met with Tsipras Tuesday but rejected a government-proposed compromise. They were to decide Thursday whether to continue or call off their strike.

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