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Greek coalition faces defection in state TV row

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Greece's coalition government appeared set to lose its smallest partner on Friday after emergency talks failed to break a deadlock caused by the dramatic closure of state broadcaster ERT last week.

But fears of early elections dissipated after the coalition's second largest partner, the socialists, said they would continue to support the year-old government.

"It is clear that when we share a responsibility, we all share alike," socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos said after the late-night government talks.

"You can't pick and choose," Venizelos said in a swipe at the three-member coalition's smallest partner, the moderate Democratic Left party, which seems headed for an exit.

Late on Thursday, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said he had disagreed with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' handling of ERT's closure.

Hours later, a senior Democratic Left lawmaker said the departure of the party's two ministers from the government was almost certain.

"Whether the ministers will resign...is more or less a fact," Democratic Left central committee member Dimitris Hatzisocrates told Antenna television.

Democratic Left's lawmakers were holding a marathon meeting on Friday to confirm the decision.

"We disagree with actions that offend legality," party leader Kouvelis had said after last-ditch talks with Samaras Venizelos.

Samaras, who was just one year into his four-year term, has pledged to fight on to enact unpopular austerity reforms demanded by Greece's international creditors.

"No one wants elections right now. Today we have marked one year as government and we will do our full (four-year) term," Samaras said in a televised address after failing to win over Kouvelis.

He will count on support from Venizelos, who pledged to stay the course on Thursday.

The expected pullout of Democratic Left, which has 14 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, leaves the conservatives and socialists with a combined strength of 153 MPs, just enough to keep control of the chamber.

The two allies are also hoping that another 14 independent MPs who were once part of their own parties will help the government to push further reforms through parliament.

Samaras said that he also hoped for the continued support of Democratic Left even outside the government "but we will move forward either way," he added.

"The government comes out weakened from this situation, caused by Samaras' extreme and undemocratic decisions on ERT," said Dimitris Papadimoulis, parliament spokesman for the main opposition party Syriza.

Thursday's meeting of the coalition partners was the third effort this week to break the political deadlock over the state broadcaster.

Concerned over the latest political developments, the European Union called on the country's leaders to act responsibly.

"I appeal to the sense of responsibility of political leaders in Greece for the sake of Greece and of Europe," EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said late Thursday, soon after the statements made by Venizelos and Kouvelis.

The shutdown has taken ERT's five TV channels and 24 radio stations off the air and will result in the loss of nearly 2,700 jobs.

Greece is under pressure by its EU-IMF lenders to axe 4,000 civil servant posts by the end of the year, as part of its massive 240-billion-euro ($318 billion) bailout.

But on Thursday, the International Monetary Fund denied it had recommended the broadcaster's shutdown.

Samaras has rejected calls to reinstate ERT in its previous form: he says it cost 300 million euros a year for an overall viewer rating of four percent, less than half that of its private competitors.

The government has offered to compensate ERT's employees and to create a new broadcaster with less than half the workforce.

ERT was widely seen in Greece as a government mouthpiece and a haven of chronic mismanagement.

But it also offered educational content unavailable on private television, and a link to the homeland for the country's large diaspora.

ERT's closure has also provoked criticism from international media organisations, which have condemned its shutdown as undemocratic.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130621/greek-coalition-faces-defection-state-tv-row