Greek state TV closure triggers strikes

People gather outside the Greece's public TV ERT headquarters in Athens on June 12, 2013, in support of the broadcaster's staff and unions, a day after a shock decision by the government to shut down the state broadcaster's operations with immediate effect, a move affecting nearly 2,700 jobs. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images) LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

ATHENS, Greece Greece's two largest labor unions called a 24-hour general strike for Thursday to protest the government's move to close state-run TV and radio, a decision that has shocked the public and triggered a political crisis.

State TV and radio signals went dead 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 the company's headquarters north of Athens as journalists defied the order and continued a live Internet broadcast.

The civil servants' union ADEDY told the Associated Press it had called a strike and a series of protests to be held outside the ERT headquarters. The larger GSEE union was also meeting to ratify the decision and join the nationwide strike, officials from that union said.

Journalist unions also 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.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said a new public broadcaster would be launched before the end of the summer.

"When you restructure something from the foundations, you have to close it, temporarily," he said Wednesday.

But conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faces stern opposition from his own 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.

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.

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.

Kedikoglou insisted the government had "no need" to inform the troika officials of its decision.

The European Commission said it had not sought the closure of ERT but "nor does the Commission question the Greek government's mandate to manage the public sector."

The European Broadcasting Union, based in Geneva, Switzerland, 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."

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