By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) - Employees at Greece's state television ERT hugged each other and cried on Thursday as the channel aired its first broadcast in two years, after it was shut down under one of the previous government's most drastic austerity measures.
Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who is racing to reach a cash-for-reforms deal with the European Union and IMF, had called ERT's closure "a great wound" of his country's bailout. He made its reopening one of his priorities as part of efforts to roll back cuts demanded by the lenders.
Employees gathered on the set in the early hours of Thursday in tears as anchors prepared to present the first early-morning talk show. Ahead of the program, the channel played out footage of some of Greece's most famous landmarks and scenery, as the national anthem blared out.
"It's a special day for all Greeks, for philhellenes, for those who love Greece and for those who love freedom of information," anchor Nikos Aggelidis said at the start of the show. "We're nervous. We're very touched."
Visibly moved, his co-presenter Vasiliki Haina added in a shaky voice: "It's a special day for us, a difficult day." The news ticker at the bottom of the screen read: "The return of ERT two years since the black."
ERT, which cost 300 million euros a year to run, was replaced with a slimmed-downed broadcaster called NERIT, which is expected to be merged or absorbed by ERT.
Workers climbed to the top of the broadcaster's headquarters earlier this week to remove the letter's "N" and "I" from its logo.
Tsipras's Syriza party called its reopening "a great victory for democracy". A concert to celebrate its launch was planned outside its headquarters for the evening.
The closure of ERT on June 11, 2013, with newscasters cut-off mid-sentence, set off a firestorm of protests, brought thousands to the streets and led to the withdrawal of a partner from the coalition government at the time.
The move divided Greeks, many of whom regarded it as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties but were shocked by the abruptness with which the government pulled the plug.
Hundreds rallied outside the building in daily protests, as teary-eyed musicians from ERT's national symphony orchestra performed songs. Laid-off journalists had defied management orders to leave the headquarters and for weeks broadcast a bootleg news channel over the Internet.
The government has said all of the roughly 2,500 staff who were made redundant, including 600 journalists, would be rehired at a cost of about 30 million euros a year, covered through an existing monthly charge on electricity bills.
(Additional reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis; editing by Matthias Williams and Anna Willard)