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Greece optimistic about next bailout tranche ahead of eurozone talks

Greek officials have expressed confidence that a deal to unlock billions of euros in financial aid is about to be reached. However, there are still doubts about whether EU ministers will approve the release of the funds.

Greece is hoping that eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will approve the release of 8.1 billion euros ($10.4 billion) to Athens.

Following a week of talks in the Greek capital, which wrapped up on Sunday, officials from both sides said they believed they were close to deal.

"We have made substantial progress," Poul Thomsen, who represented the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the negotiations said. "I hope we will reach an agreement on Monday before the Eurogroup meeting."

Greece's finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said he too was "optimistic that tomorrow (Monday) we will have an agreement."

Also involved in the talks were representatives of the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

Whether the finance ministers will decide to release the funds is expected to hinge largely on the findings of the latest report to be released by the so-called "troika" of international creditors (IMF, EU, ECB) on how well Greece has been doing on meeting its commitments under financial bailouts worth 240 billion euros.

A report published on the web site of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday said it had received information that the creditors were not satisfied with the progress made by Greece's government. This, it said, meant the finance ministers would likely decide to delay the release of the 8.1 billion euros - and pay it out in smaller instalments, rather than in a lump sum.

On Sunday, the European commissioner responsible for economic affairs, who had previously said smaller instalments could be in the cards, also appeared less than pleased with Athens.

"The ball is in the Greek court and it depends on whether Greece is able to deliver the remaining elements of the milestones that have been agreed," Olli Rehn told the Reuters news agency.

Public sector strike

The Süddeutsche report said the creditors were particularly displeased with the fact that Greece had failed to meet an agreed deadline for reducing the number of public sector workers.

Not surprisingly, this is deeply unpopular with government workers. To protest against the redeployment plan, municipal workers were to strike on Monday, affecting most things like a rubbish collection but with the exception of welfare and social services.

Also to be discussed at Monday's meeting in Brussels are concerns about the recent political upheaval in another bailed-out state, Portugal.

pfd/kms (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)