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Greek coalition takes defection blow in state TV row

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Greece's coalition government suffered a blow Friday after its smallest partner pulled out over the dramatic closure of state broadcaster ERT, shrinking the size of the ruling majority in parliament ahead of tough reform battles.

The opposition charged that the defection had weakened the government, but fears of early elections quickly dissipated after the coalition's second largest partner, the socialists, pledged to continue to support the government.

Democratic Left's withdrawal of its 14 MPs would leave the coalition of conservatives and socialists with a combined strength of 153 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, just enough to hold onto control.

However, the small moderate leftist party's two ministers, two deputy ministers and several junior officials would need to be replaced.

"Following a decision of its executive committee and its parliamentary group, Democratic Left is no longer part of the government," the moderate leftists said in a statement after the party held a marathon meeting on Friday.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Alpha radio that new ministers "will be named in the coming days...very soon," amid expectations of a broader reshuffle in the government.

The Athens stock exchange, which had opened with a 2.6-percent drop, accelerated its fall to 6.11 percent at the week's close.

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 late on Thursday.

The conservative-socialist coalition are now hoping to obtain support from a group of another 14 independent MPs -- most of whom were once part of their own parties -- to push further reforms through parliament.

Samaras said that he also hoped for the continued support of Democratic Left even though it is no longer part of the government "but we will move forward either way".

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

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

Samaras angered his coalition partners more than a week ago when he unilaterally shut down ERT, which he wants to turn into a smaller broadcaster and cut what he considers waste.

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

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 among other reforms, in exchange for 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 argued that it cost 300 million euros a year for an overall viewer rating of four percent, less than half that of its private competitors.

The finance ministry on Friday called on ERT staff who have refused to leave company premises and have mounted rogue broadcasts for over a week, to vacate the offices.

The ministry said 2,000 staff would be re-hired on a temporary basis to meet a court decision calling for the immediate restoration of public broadcasts.

But ERT is legally dead, so the government plans to compensate ERT's employees and create a new broadcaster with less than half the workforce over the next two months.

ERT was widely seen in Greece as a government mouthpiece and a haven of chronic mismanagement where state favourites sat on plush contracts, even during the austerity years.

But it also offered educational content unavailable on private television, and a cherished 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-takes-defection-blow-state-tv-row