Greek coalition wrestles to avoid collapse

AP News
Posted: Jun 17, 2013 7:50 AM
Greek coalition wrestles to avoid collapse

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Party leaders in Greece's ruling coalition are to meet Monday to try and heal the rift over the closure of the country's state TV and radio broadcaster that is threatening to topple the government and compromise the country's massive bailout program.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' fragile three-party coalition formed to save debt-stifled Greece from bankruptcy this time last year is now flirting with the political instability that has forced three changes of government in as many years.

Both minority leaders in the year-old coalition government have strongly opposed the prime minister's decision last week to shut down the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, as part of the country's austerity program. The Prime Minister is to hold talks later in the day with the leaders of the coalition's two center-left partners in an attempt to shore up parliamentary support for the closure.

ERT staff has continued unauthorized live programming since the June 11 closure, backed by European Broadcasting Union which represents public TV and radio stations across the continent.

Samaras, 62, has been credited with rescuing Greece's membership in the euro by sticking to harsh austerity measures imposed by rescue lenders. However the program of cuts and tax rises has dragged the country deeper into recession, with more than a quarter of the workforce now jobless.

His center-right New Democracy has a narrow lead in opinion polls over the left-wing and anti-bailout Syriza party but would likely be unable to form a government without another coalition if a snap election is held.

At the weekend, Samaras described major protests against ERT's closure as "an excuse to halt reforms" insisting he would not take back his decision to close broadcaster and replace it with new state TV and radio organization with fewer staff and a new charter.

Later Monday, Syriza is planning a protest rally in the city's main Syntagma Square, while a high court will consider a union motion challenging the legality of closing ERT's three terrestrial channels and extensive radio network.

Shares on the Athens Stock Exchange were 2 percent lower ahead of the meeting expected at 7:30 p.m. (1630GMT).