* Junior coalition partners want immediate restart of broadcaster
* Most Greeks oppose ERT closure, according to opinion polls
* Polls give New Democracy 0.3 pct lead over left-wing Syriza
By Karolina Tagaris and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, June 15 (Reuters) - Both junior partners in Greece’s ruling coalition have turned down a compromise by the prime minister over the shutdown of the public broadcaster ERT, raising the prospect that the rift among the parties might be impossible to mend.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras offered on Friday to rehire a smaller number of staff to resume news broadcasts, in response to an outcry over Tuesday’s abrupt closure of ERT to save money under the terms of Greece’s international bailout.
But his concession did not satisfy the left-wing parties in the fragile coalition, the Socialist PASOK and the Democratic Left, who are demanding the immediate reopening of ERT’s television and radio stations.
The failure to reach a compromise so far has led to speculation about an early election, which would almost certainly derail Greece’s bailout programme - although all the party leaders have said they do not want a new vote.
“Our position remains the same. Any restructuring of ERT has to take place with the broadcaster open, as it was before,” said Andreas Papadopoulos, spokesman of the Democratic Left party.
The three coalition partners are due to meet on Monday evening in an effort to find a way out of the impasse.
Papadopoulos said Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis would propose the immediate reopening of ERT and the creation of a committee to come up with a restructuring plan within three months.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos told the Ethnos newspaper: “PASOK doesn’t want elections but we are not afraid of them.”
Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is also deputy chief of Samaras’s New Democracy party, called for compromise to avert potential damage to the steps Greece has taken to exit its debt crisis.
While Greeks have little affection for the 75-year-old ERT, viewing it as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties, the suddenness of the decision was a shock. Unions and the opposition have branded it a “coup-like move”.
Around 64 percent of Greeks are against the ERT shutdown, a Kapa Research poll published in Sunday’s To Vima newspaper found. Another poll by Metron Analysis for the Ependytis newspaper found that 68 percent oppose the closure.
But a majority of Greeks also want political stability, according to the Kapa poll, carried out on June 12-13, after ERT was taken off air. About 57 percent of respondents said there should not be another early election.
Both polls gave Samaras’s New Democracy party a 0.3 percentage point lead over the opposition far-left Syriza party. No party enjoys enough support to rule on its own.
“Early elections would wipe out the sacrifices of Greek society and the struggles of the market in order to satisfy political egos,” Vassilis Korkidis, head of the ESEE retail federation, wrote on Twitter.
Screens went black on Tuesday night just hours after the government’s spokesman, himself a former state TV journalist, announced the move.
Private-sector journalists also went on strike, causing a nationwide news blackout, although some returned to work on Saturday after a court ruled the strike illegal.
The government has always said the shutdown is temporary and that ERT will soon be relaunched in a smaller and more efficient form.
ERT’s three domestic television channels, along with regional and national radio stations, have a combined audience share of about 10 percent and cost Greece as much as 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, the government has said.
Samaras, who has branded defenders of ERT as hypocrites, insists that the reform is necessary for Greece to show it is making good on its reform promises to lenders.
“Reforms and democracy go hand in hand,” Samaras wrote in an opinion piece in the conservative daily Kathimerini. “None of this can happen if you’re not prepared to break eggs.”