* Junior coalition partners want immediate restart of
* Most Greeks oppose ERT closure, according to opinion polls
* Polls give New Democracy 0.3 pct lead over left-wing
By Karolina Tagaris and Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, June 15 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
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
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".
TV CLOSURE OR ELECTION?
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
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."