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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece plans to sell bonds at some point early in 2014, ending four years of exclusion from international capital markets, the country's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said on Monday.
This is the most optimistic forecast about a bond market return yet made by a Greek official, topping an estimate made last week by the country's finance minister Yannis Stournaras who said that this would not happen before the end of 2014.
"We are already scheduling Greece to go out in the markets in the first half of next year," Samaras said in a speech before business leaders in Athens.
But Greece's lenders are more pessimistic about a Greek bond market return. In the draft report obtained by Reuters on Monday, they said that Athens would take several years to fully return to capital markets after funding from its 240-billion euro bailout ends in 2014.
Greece has been shut out of bond markets since early 2010, when it plunged into a debt crisis that forced it into becoming the first euro zone country to seek an international bailout. It has been only selling short-term T-bills since, mostly to domestic banks.
Ireland and Portugal, which also obtained EU/IMF rescue loans, have made more progress than Athens and managed to sell long-term debt again, moving closer to a bailout exit.
This has encouraged Athens, which has also seen its sovereign yields fall steadily since the European Central Bank announced a bond buying programme to provide a debt backstop for struggling states.
Greek 10-year bond yields dropped below 10 percent last week, their lowest level in months. Greek optimism also increased after the country's finances got a clean bill of health by its international lenders last month.
This has opened the way for Athens to receive as much as 7.5 billion euros (6.3 billion pounds) in additional rescue loans from euro group finance ministers later on Monday.
"We are already surprising (the lenders). I want us to go even further than that," Samaras said in his speech.
In a further sign of increasing confidence in Greece, Samaras said that lenders will end nerve-wrangling quarterly inspection visits to Athens and will instead visit at more rare intervals.
The troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund lenders will now return in October, Samaras said. The lenders were previously scheduled to return in June after completing their last visit in April.
"The troika has already issued a very favourable report and this suspense of the troika returning every three months will now end," Samaras said.
Greece is set to meet its budget targets this year and next but must step up privatisations and public sector reform, the EU and IMF said in a draft report obtained by Reuters on Monday.
Greece's autumn talks with its lenders will focus on possible additional austerity measures to plug an estimated budget shortfall of almost 8 billion euros in 2015-2016, the European Commission said in a separate report released earlier on Monday.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Ron Askew