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Greece faces political crisis over state TV closure
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Greece faces political crisis over state TV closure

2 min. 12.06.2013 From our online archive
Greece faced a new political crisis on Wednesday as the government was hit with a storm of public protest and a looming general strike over its shock decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT.

(AFP) Greece faced a new political crisis on Wednesday as the government was hit with a storm of public protest and a looming general strike over its shock decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT.

The socialist and moderate leftist parties supporting the coalition government were to hold an emergency meeting to decide their response as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras refused to back down.

"We are eliminating a hotbed of opacity and waste," Samaras said at a European Investment Bank event in Athens. "We are protecting the public interest."

The broadcaster's television and radio stations were abruptly pulled off air late Tuesday and its nearly 2,700 staff suspended as part of the conservative-led coalition government's deeply unpopular austerity drive.

"The ERT lockup amounts to a coup d'etat," leading union GSEE said in a statement. It announced a 24-hour general strike on Thursday, the third in the crisis-hit country this year.

There was also a protest by journalists in neighbouring Cyprus, where there are fears that budget-straining broadcaster RIK could go the same way as the government looks to slash spending in the island's own austerity drive.

New public broadcaster to take over during summer

The Samaras administration quickly presented legislation creating a new broadcaster called New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television (NERIT) to replace the 60-year-old ERT.

"You can't fix a car while it is running, you have to take it off the road," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told journalists.

"It is a temporary postponement.... Everything will pass by parliament, I assure you it's all legal," he said, promising a "restart" during the summer.

But the sudden shutdown of ERT caused uproar, with journalists kicking off a 24-hour strike Wednesday while defiant staff staged sit-ins at the organisation's offices in Athens and Greece's second-largest city Thessaloniki.

Riot police were stationed outside ERT offices around the country to prevent "any destruction", said Kedikoglou, himself a former journalist at the organisation.

EU highlights importance of public broadcasting

The government has imposed sweeping public cutbacks demanded by the debt-laden country's international lenders in return for a massive bailout.

However, the spokesman insisted ERT's closure was not part of Greece's bailout obligations.

"This has nothing to do with the troika," Kedikoglou said, referring to Greece's creditors, the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Greece is caught in a six-year recession which austerity critics say has been exacerbated by successive pay and pension cuts imposed at the behest of its EU-IMF creditors.

Unemployment is steadily rising and now exceeds 26 percent, with half of young people out of work.

ERT employees, stunned by the sudden loss of their jobs, were defiantly transmitting rogue broadcasts on the Internet and the Communist party channel, vowing to resist the shutdown.

Thousands of people rushed to ERT's main headquarters in Athens and its Thessaloniki offices on Tuesday to show their support for the broadcaster.

The European Union said it did not question the government decision but that public broadcasting was "an integral part of European democracy."