BRUSSELS, Belgium — The Greek government's surprise decision to shut down the state broadcaster has sent shockwaves though a country that's become accustomed to closures and mass layoffs during six years of unbroken recession.
Unions have called a general strike as journalists camped in broadcaster ERT's headquarters are broadcasting online in defiance of the closure, with the support of international colleagues.
Thousands attended protests outside the building in central Athens.
There are fears pulling the plug on ERT could undermine the fragile coalition government.
The two left-of-center parties in the government are planning a motion in parliament opposing the closure, setting up a confrontation with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras described the shutdown as "illegal" and a “coup.”
If the government falls, Greece could again be plunged into a political crisis that would undermine its hopes of climbing out of recession next year, which would again shake confidence in the euro zone.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou stunned Greeks when he appeared on TV on Tuesday afternoon to announce the government would be pulling the plug on ERT at midnight.
He said the bloated and inefficient state broadcaster was an “incredible extravagance” that wasted much of the $437 million it receives every year from Greek taxpayers from a levy on household energy bills.
The closure put ERT's 2,700 staff out of work.
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The government says a new, slimmed down broadcaster will take the place of ERT in a couple of months. But while many Greeks may agree that the radio and TV company was badly run, there are signs the government underestimated the extent of public backlash against the decision.
"There was plenty wrong with ERT," wrote Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor of the English edition of the Greek daily Kathimerini. "There was also a lot to cherish... it did the job that all national broadcasters should do by being a common reference point for millions."