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Greece returns to markets with 5-year bond

ATHENS -- Greece announced Wednesday it was returning to international bond markets for the first time in four years amid growing signs of confidence in the country that triggered the European debt crisis.

The finance ministry said in a statement it had instructed international banks to issue the five-year euro-denominated bond, and that the sale “is expected to be priced and carried out in the immediate future.”

The exact size of the bond sale has not been revealed, but Greece's deputy prime minister said recently it is likely to be about 2 billion euros (US$2.7 billion). Although the specific date was not formally announced, it is widely expected to be Thursday.

Hammered by a severe loss of confidence triggered by massive debt and a huge budget deficit, Greece hasn't been able to tap investors for cash because of excessively high borrowing rates since 2010.

“This is an important step in Greece's effort to fully exit the crisis,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told The Associated Press minutes after the announcement.

On Tuesday, Greece's short term borrowing costs dropped considerably, with interest rates on a six-month treasury bill sale falling to 3 percent, from 3.6 a month earlier.

However, ratings agencies still consider Greek government bonds to still be well below investment grade, with the three major agencies rating them as junk.

On Wednesday, unions held a 24-hour nationwide general strike, halting trains and island ferries and leaving state hospitals running on emergency staff. At least 10,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital in noisy but peaceful demonstrations. A similar number marched in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“Today's strike is being held for the working class to respond decisively ... to the measures the government is deciding against workers' rights, to the problems of poverty, unemployment, the abolition of collective wage agreements,” said Giorgos Pondikos, a member of the communist party-linked PAME union who was among the protesters.

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