ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Exactly one year ago, Greece's conservative prime minister won the mandate to form a coalition government with a daunting brief: Restart punishing economic reforms, keep the debt-stifled country in the eurozone and end months of political chaos.
The latter has proved the hardest chore, and Antonis Samaras is now making a last-ditch bid to quell a revolt by key allies over his decision to close the country's state TV and radio broadcaster, axing nearly 2,700 jobs to meet austerity targets.
Samaras was locked in talks for hours with his two center-left minority partners late Monday to try to avoid taking the country into its fourth election in less than four years and subjecting it to greater hardship.
New reform delays could compromise Greece's vital bailout program, while such a vote would probably produce a hung parliament — with a quasi-neo-Nazi party polling third.
Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, employees have continued unauthorized live programming since the June 11 closure, backed by the European Broadcasting Union, which represents public TV and radio stations across the continent.
A government official said Samaras had offered his coalition allies — the Socialist Pasok and Democratic Left — a summer Cabinet reshuffle and greater influence in ERT's transition. The official asked not to be named because the government talks were ongoing.
As the negotiations continued, a high court issued a provisional ruling that the government decision to shut off ERT's signal was illegal, but that it was within its rights to close the company. The decision could allow politicians to reach a compromise by saying the closure is only temporary while the company is remodeled with a smaller staff.
The dispute over ERT has rekindled anti-austerity protests, and even led to warnings from within Samaras' own conservative party that the dispute was putting sacrifices made by Greek taxpayers at risk.
Outside parliament, left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras demanded elections.
"You're done, Mr. Samaras. You have embarrassed the country internationally. ... You are desperate and alone," Tsipras told thousands of party supporters at a protest rally.
Though often seen as too pro-government, ERT is also regarded as a bastion of quality among a quagmire of private channels whose most popular programs are foreign soap operas. ERT's abrupt demise shocked most Greeks and prompted daily protests outside the corporation's Athens headquarters.
European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly urged coalition parties to fulfill their responsibilities.
"We have clear positions on Greece and the political stability required for the implementation of reform and the economic rebalancing of the country," he said. "And we would like that stability to be maintained."
In Berlin, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble praised the accomplishments made by the coalition government, adding that he had accepted an invitation to visit Athens, without a date being immediately set.
Samaras, 62, has been credited with rescuing Greece's membership in the euro currency by sticking to harsh austerity measures imposed by rescue lenders. The country has depended on rescue loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010.
His government has committed to lay off 15,000 public sector workers by 2015.
The conservative-led government has a four-year mandate. And Samaras' center-right New Democracy party enjoys a very slender lead in opinion polls over left-wing Syriza, while the extreme right Golden Dawn party would get up to 14 percent of the vote.
Monday's meeting occurred as relations between Samaras and coalition partners continue to sour over his repeated clashes with unions.
Democratic Left lawmaker Maria Repoussi said Monday the coalition cannot continue functioning.
"We are not willing to follow the coups and other actions of Mr. Samaras," she said. "He totally ignored the three party nature of this government — which this government is founded on. There must be a new agreement of how the government should function."
But Janis A. Emmanouilidis, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, argued that Samaras — who has invested strongly with conservative voters with his tough line on ERT — could emerge stronger if a compromise is reached.
"There's strong interest from the outside that there is continuity in Greece and stability for some time to come ... So I think the pressure is there," Emmanouilidis said by telephone from Brussels.
"I think for the coalition — for the smaller coalition partners — I think there is the realization that elections are not in their interest either."