ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Journalists fired from Greece's state TV and radio refused to leave the broadcaster's headquarters and continued Internet programming, as the country's conservative-led government faced an acute political crisis nearly a year after taking office.
State TV and radio signals were cut early Wednesday, hours after the government closed the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, and fired its 2,500 workers, citing the need to cut "incredible waste". But thousands of protesters remained outside ERT's giant headquarters north of Athens through the night as journalists continued a live broadcast, which was streamed online.
Journalist unions launched rolling 24-hour strikes, halting private television news programs, while the government's center-left coalition partners demanded that ERT's closure be reversed.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces stern opposition from his coalition partners — the Socialist Pasok and Democratic Left party — for the decision. The executive order to close ERT must be ratified by parliament within three months but cannot be approved without backing from the minority coalition lawmakers.
Left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras slammed the closure as "illegal" during an interview on ERT's online broadcast.
"Many times the word 'coup' is used as an exaggeration," he said. "In this case, it is not an exaggeration."
Tsipras said he would meet the country's president later Wednesday and ask him to cancel an executive order he signed allowing the government to close ERT.
ERT started radio programming in the 1930s and television in the mid-1096s. Though it was widely regarded as reflecting government positions — it had a channel run by the military during the 1967-74 dictatorship — the broadcaster was also valued for showcasing regional and cultural content and for covering major sporting events such as the football World Cup and the Olympics.
The decision to close ERT was announced during an inspection in Athens by officials from Greece's bailout creditors. The so-called "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund has been pressing the government to start a long-delayed program to fire civil servants.
The surprise closure of ERT is now one of the biggest crises to afflict the three-party coalition government since it was formed nearly a year ago.
Despite tensions over a number of issues, notably related to the austerity measures demanded by Greece's international creditors, the coalition government has surprised many by surviving. It has also been credited with stabilizing the bailed out Greek economy and easing the threat of an exit from the euro.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou promised Tuesday to reopen ERT at an unspecified later date, but is facing growing protest in Greece and abroad.
Greece's largest unions, the GSEE and the civil servants' ADEDY, began emergency meetings to decide on likely strikes in response to the ERT developments.
And the Geneva, Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union expressed its "profound dismay" in a letter to Samaras, urging him to reverse course.
Greeks watched ERT's online program on laptops in corner shops and homes, many expressing disbelief at the decision to close it.
"I feel very bad. I'm very upset... This is a big loss for TV," Athens resident Eytixia Kaziani said. "I feel bad for the channel; it was one of the best in Greece .... I'm making a plea to the government to reopen the channel and rehire ERT employees."
AP Television's Rafael Kominis and Srdjan Nedeljkovic contributed.
Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. http://www.ert.gr/