Greece: Rift Over State Broadcaster Widens

Greece: Rift Over State Broadcaster Widens

Greece's ruling coalition is in disarray as disagreement over the sudden shutdown of the country's state broadcaster widens.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has accused his alliance partners of reneging on promises to press ahead with mass lay-offs.

Lenders from Europe and the International Monetary Fund have long pressed successive Greek governments to implement mass lay-offs.

In April, despite widespread opposition, Mr Samaras' three-party coalition broke a century-old taboo, voting to sack some 15,000 civil servants as part of cost-cutting measures in exchange for added bailout funds.

"To now disagree with this is hypocrisy," Mr Samaras told conservative supporters in the Peloponnese.

"We all signed up to this legislation. And we intend to continue with reforms."

The prime minister's remarks signalled a hardening stance after his two leftist coalition partners - the socialist PASOK and Democratic Left parties - rejected a concession to rehire a small number of staff to resume news broadcasts at ERT, the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, until a new entity is formed within the coming months.

All three political leaders are expected to meet in crisis talks on Monday to try to iron out the differences.

Failure to produce an agreement on how to proceed with ERT's shutdown and looming lay-offs in the public sector could force Mr Samaras to either resign or send Greeks on an early trip to the ballot box.

Public opinion seems to be split.

A fresh poll published Sunday shows that while 64.4% of Greeks spurned the government's handling of the ERT shutdown, some 57% of them disagreed with the government resorting to elections as a way out of the political crisis.

Some 40.1%, however, said elections should be held in response to the ERT fiasco.

"I'm scared. Is this how the government plans to proceed with other layoffs in the public sector?" said Maria Grigoriadou, a 45-year-old high-school teacher.

"I look at these 2,900 people who were fired and I see myself in them. Has the government no sense of reality?"

Last week, as international inspectors kicked off their review, Mr Samaras ordered ERT's closure, sparking massive protests and a news blackout that has all television stations running sit-coms and soap opera reruns for nearly a week.

Hundreds of ERT employees remain camped at the sprawling grounds of the network, north-east of Athens, as leftists union geared for a fresh protest gathering on Monday.

Defending its decision, the government says ERT's three domestic television channels, national and international radios stations cost the cash-strapped state €300m (£255m) a year, by some accounts, between three and seven times the budget of commercial networks.

Many Greeks have long viewed the broadcaster as a wasteful den of political hires feeding off state coffers.

"No one kicked up a storm for the millions losing their jobs in the private sector," said Vassilis Skrikas, a 53-year-old shop-keeper.

"Why should I care about these people at ERT? Why should they be treated like were a privileged lot and not like everyone else."