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Citi lowers probability of "Grexit" to 60 percent from 90 percent

ATHENS (Reuters) - Citigroup changed on Friday its view that Greece will almost certainly leave the euro, saying key euro zone players seem to have decided a Greek exit would do more harm than good.

The U.S. bank lowered its probability of a "Grexit" to 60 percent from 90 percent "mainly due to a change in the attitude of euro core members toward it", it said in a note to investors.

"Politicians probably fear its negative effects on upcoming elections (in Germany) and a diminished economic resilience in the rest of Europe," Citi added.

Greece is seen missing the debt and deficit targets set out under the 130 billion euro European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout it obtained earlier this year, fuelling talk the country might be forced to leave the euro zone.

But several of the bloc's leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have recently voiced support for Athens and its new coalition government under Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which is negotiating a new austerity package with the lenders.

The government's cooperative stance has increased the odds of Athens staying in the euro, Citi said.

But it said Greece is still more likely than not to leave the euro within the next 12-18 months, arguing that lenders are unlikely to waive part of the country's huge debt to make it sustainable.

"Unless a write-off of official debt is agreed upon - quite unlikely, in our view - we think a stalemate between Greece and its international creditors will eventually lead to a withdrawal of international support leaving Grexit as potentially the only available solution for Greece".

Greece would most likely leave the euro in the first half of 2014, Citi said.

The IMF said earlier this week it expected Greek debt to peak at 182 percent of GDP next year and fall to 153 percent of GDP in 2017 -- a much higher level than the 120-percent target the country is supposed to hit in 2020 under its bailout plan.

Economists at UBS said on Friday Greece would need further debt relief from creditors including official lenders, after a restructuring agreed with private creditors helped cut the country's debt by about 100 billion euros earlier this year.

"Greece is an insolvent country and it needs another debt relief (plan)," said Martin Lueck, European economist at UBS. "The next restructuring will involve the public sector."

Because governments and other public institutions would need to be involved it was more likely the next restructuring would come in the form of an extension of maturities rather than by writing down the value of debt, Lueck added.

The IMF wants official lenders such as Germany to take a "haircut" like that already swallowed by private bondholders, according to sources.

But European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi last week dismissed the prospect of the ECB extending the maturities on Greek sovereign bonds it holds, saying it would constitute monetary financing, which is against the ECB's rules.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Additional reporting by Eve Kuehnen in Frankfurt; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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