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Media

Greek ERT journalists defy order to cease programs

Journalists from the Greek public broadcaster ERT have mounted a show of defiance after a shock budget decision to immediately axe state television and radio. Employees staged a sit-in and continued programming.

Broadcasts via the Internet continued into Wednesday, with journalists refusing to leave the headquarters of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp (ERT).

Opposition political parties and unions joined the protests against the shutdown, which the government said was necessary to meet Greece's debt bailout conditions.

Station shutdown ordered

The decision to close ERT after 75 years of broadcasting was made by ministerial decree - without reference to parliament - by the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Public television and radio stations were gradually taken off the air on Tuesday evening, after the announcement that the organization had been formally disbanded. The government said authorities would "secure" ERT's facilities.

Journalists stay put

However, journalists remained in the ERT headquarters. On Wednesday morning, local time, they continued programming via the internet.

According to the German news agency DPA, the chief executive of ERT Emilios Latsios had told employees to leave or face arrest,

Thousands of protesters gathered in support outside the building. Journalist unions also called a day-long strike, halting private television news broadcasts. Further strikes by broadcast and newspaper journalists were also planned.

The Greek government said on Wednesday that it would launch a streamlined version of the state broadcaster - which has some 2,600 staff, including 600 journalists - within a matter of weeks.

Conservative Samaras faces strong opposition from his more left-leaning coalition partners, PASOK and the Democratic Left party.

A 'coup d'etat'

The leader of the main opposition party Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, described the decision as "illegal" and a "coup d'etat" and said he would put a legislative amendment to parliament later on Wednesday, after a planned meeting with Samaras.

ERT made its first public broadcast in 1938 and grew to three channels, seven national radio stations and 19 regional radio stations.

According to the government, it costs the country around 300 million euros (400 million dollars) a year.

The government decision to close ERT followed a major blow to the country's privatization program on Monday, when Russian energy giant Gazprom said it was withdrawing its interest in buying the Greek state gas firm DEPA.

That privatization was part of a package of measures being put in place as part of an emergency funding package to allow Greece to meet its sovereign debt repayments.

Premier Samaras had on Tuesday ruled out the need for new austerity measures to make up for the failure of the deal.

International creditors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund on Monday called for the immediate sacking of thousands of civil servants in talks with the Greek government.

rc/ipj (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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