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No agreement in Greek coalition over closure of state broadcaster

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Greece's coalition government was facing a rift Friday, after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his junior coalition allies failed to agree on the future of state broadcaster ERT, closed by the government last week.

"No one wants elections right now. Today we have marked one year as government and we will do our full (four-year) term," said the premier after an emergency cabinet meeting that he convened late Thursday, following the inconclusive talks with his allies.

Junior partner Fotis Kouvelis, leader of moderate leftists Democratic Left, expressed his objections to Samaras' handling of ERT.

"There was no agreement. For us it is a matter of democratic legality... We disagree with actions that offend legality," he said.

Leader of socialists Pasok, Evangelos Venizelos, said he continues to support the government.

"We want the government to continue operating as a three-party coalition," he said and called on Kouvelis to participate in a restructuring of the government's terms of collaboration.

However both of the smaller coalition allies have expressed deep misgivings about the sudden closure of ERT on June 11, a move which caused national and international uproar.

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

According to the prime minister, Kouvelis disagrees on the format that a transitional public TV should have, before a new broadcaster is set up.

"Yesterday we had an agreement... today Mr. Kouvelis chose to distance himself from the solution he accepted yesterday," Samaras said.

"We are hoping for the support of the Democratic Left, but we will move forward either way," he added.

If Democratic Left withdraws its support, the government will be left with a narrow majority of 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament.

According to local media, Kouvelis is to confer with his party early on Friday.

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.

Meanwhile, the Council of State -- Greece's top administrative court -- repeated its Monday ruling that ERT S.A. as an entity has been abolished but that public broadcasts have to be restored soon, local media reported.

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.

"The recent decisions regarding the state broadcaster have been the government's," said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice.

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 its private competitors.

"The black screens will go away, but we will not return to (ERT's) sinful past," the premier said in his Thursday late-night address.

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/no-agreement-greek-coalition-over-closure-state-broadcaster-0