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Greece

Greek PM Samaras accuses coalition partners of 'hypocrisy' over ERT closure criticism

Greek Premier Antonis Samaras has accused his coalition partners of "hypocrisy" for criticizing public broadcaster ERT's closure but supporting public service job cuts. He also shot down talk of an early election.

Speaking at a conference for his New Democratic party Sunday, Samaras defended his decision to cut ERT.

"The elimination of 2,000 public sector jobs between now and June was signed up to by all the heads of the three parties of the governing coalition," Samaras said. "From where should we cut these jobs apart from the undeserving ERT … one of the bastions of obscurity and privileges?'"

ERT was controversially taken off the air at midnight on Tuesday. The prime minister has said the broadcaster should cut jobs and scale down to re-launch as a more streamlined news service. However his coalition partners, the small leftist democratic party Dimar and the socalist party Pasok, have rejected the proposal.

In addition to backlash from within his own coalition, the move drew sharp criticism of Samaras from the opposition, with the Syriza party calling the broadcaster's closing "the climax of his authoritarian policy."

Syriza, as well as the communist-affiliated group PAME, have called for rallies in Athens Monday against ERT's closure.

Election rumors

The infighting has fueled rumors that a new election could be on the horizon just a year after Greek's last vote, but Samaras told his party members that will not happen.

"If some people naively believe that they can trap us into an election dilemma, let them not tire themselves," he said. "Nobody wants it."

Both of Samaras' coalition partners have also said they want to avoid another election, although Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos told a Sunday newspaper he "was not afraid" of a new vote.

The prime minister is set to discuss ERT with Venizelos and Dimar leader Fotis Kouvelis during a planned meeting Monday night.

ERT's future

The government says it will compensate ERT's nearly 2,700 employees and has pledged to reopen the 75-year-old broadcaster with less than half the staff before the end of the summer.

ERT's three domestic television channels, regional, national and external radio stations cost Greece 300 million euros per year, according to the government. Samaras has said shutting the broadcaster down was the only way to restructure it after previous reform attempts proved fruitless.

Many Greeks have long seen ERT as a wasteful broadcaster with a history of nepotistic hiring practices. However, opinion polls show a majority of the country opposed its abrupt shutdown.

dr/jm (Reuters, AFP)