* Coalition partner to meet Friday to discuss stance
* Samaras says ready to govern without Democratic Left
* New Democracy, PASOK have 153 seats in parliament
By Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou
ATHENS, June 20 Greece's small Democratic Left
party could pull out of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's ruling
coalition after talks to resume state television broadcasts
collapsed, party officials said on Thursday, plunging the nation
into fresh turmoil.
Lawmakers from the leftist party - which was angered by the
abrupt shutdown of broadcaster ERT last week - will meet at 0730
GMT on Friday to decide whether to continue backing Samaras, who
in turn warned he was ready to press ahead without them.
"I want us to continue together as we started but I will
move on either way," Samaras said in a televised statement,
vowing to implement public sector reforms demanded by lenders.
"Our aim is to conclude our effort to save the country,
always with a four-year term in our sights. We hope for the
Democratic Left's support."
Samaras's New Democracy party and its Socialist PASOK ally
jointly have 153 deputies, a majority of three in the country's
300-member parliament, meaning they could continue together, but
a departure of the Democratic Left would be a major blow.
Officials from all three parties ruled out snap elections.
At least two independent lawmakers have also suggested they
would back Samaras's government, which came to power a year ago
and has bickered ever since over austerity and immigration.
The latest crisis began nine days ago when Samaras abruptly
yanked ERT off air, calling it a hotbed of waste and privilege,
sparking an outcry from his two allies, unions and journalists.
After initially refusing to restart ERT, Samaras on Thursday
complained he offered to re-hire 2,000 out of 2,600 ERT workers
who were fired, a compromise "courageously" accepted by the
Socialist PASOK party but rejected by the Democratic Left.
"We will no longer have black screens on state TV channels
but we are not going to return to the sinful regime," he said.
"At this point we had a serious disagreement over ERT. I
undertook efforts to restore unity and to find a solution. I did
not respond to nasty comments."
Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left, in turn
attacked Samaras for failing to comply with a court ruling this
week ordering ERT back on air and said the issue at stake was
far bigger than state television broadcasts.
"This issue is not a formality, it's not procedural, it is
fundamentally an issue of democracy," said Kouvelis, whose party
has 14 lawmakers in parliament. "We are not responsible for the
fact that no common ground was reached."
Evangelos Venizelos, leader of PASOK - which has heavily
suffered from Greece's debt crisis and would lose further in a
new election - also called on Kouvelis to stay in the coalition.
"The situation for the country, the economy and its citizens
is especially grave," said Venizelos.
"We want the government to continue as a three-party
government and we are asking Democratic Left to participate in
'BEGINNING OF THE END'
Greece's top administrative court on Thursday confirmed an
earlier ruling suspending ERT's closure and calling for a
transitional, slimmed-down broadcaster to go on air immediately.
ERT remains off air despite Monday's court ruling ordering
it back on. Much of the squabbling this week centred on Samaras
wanting a transitional broadcaster run by only a few staff
members while his two partners wanted ERT to reopen exactly as
it was before until a newer version is launched.
Samaras is under pressure to fire public sector employees
to show Greece's EU and IMF lenders that it is sticking to
promises to cut costs under its international bailout programme.
Senior euro zone officials and the International Monetary
Fund played down concerns on Thursday that Greece could face a
shortfall in its finances, saying there was still time to remedy
ERT workers meanwhile have continued broadcasting a 24-hour
bootleg version on the Internet from their headquarters, where
workers and unions have been protesting since last Tuesday.
On Thursday, a ticker on the screen counted the hours,
minutes and seconds since Greece's top administrative court, the
Council of State, ordered the broadcaster back on air on Monday.
Opposition lawmakers rejoiced over the crisis.
"This is the beginning of the end," independent lawmaker
Nikos Nikolopoulos tweeted, referring to Samaras's government.