Greek unions strike after state broadcaster shut down
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Greek unions called for a 24-hour general strike on Thursday after the government closed down state broadcaster ERT as the backlash to the sudden move threatened to lead to political instability in the debt-weary country.
Greek workers launched a nationwide strike on Thursday to protest against the government’s sudden closure of the public television Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, a decision that has caused a huge backlash among citizens and divisions within the already weak coalition government.
Hospitals were running on emergency staff and public transport ground close to a halt, as unions representing some 2.5 million workers called for a 24-hour work stoppage.
“In a systematic and autocratic way, the government has abolished the rights of workers and citizens one by one,” said the public sector union ADEDY organising the industrial action.
Separately, a union representing journalists in Athens has called an indefinite strike of members, causing some newspapers to disappear from stands and news shows to be replaced with reruns.
In a statement ADEDY urged “every worker and every citizen to fight to overthrow the government’s catastrophic plans.”
The conservative-led government said the move was a temporary measure to reform a “hotbed of opacity and waste,” and that a new, leaner public broadcasting company would open during the summer.
“There was no other way. If we announced that we were going to do this in three months then ERT would be closed because of the strikes. We preferred to do it this way,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told a press conference.
But opponents said the unilateral shutdown was an affront to democracy and the public’s trust.
“In essence we are dealing with a coup. We all have a responsibility to resist this action,” Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the main opposition party Syriza told journalists.
Police kept watch outside ERT’s buildings in Athens and other Greek cities, as irate ERT employees gathered along with supporters.
The decision to close ERT also threatened the ruling coalition, made up of socialist and moderate leftist parties.
The socialist and moderate leftist parties supporting the coalition government called the decision "unacceptable" as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras refused to back down.
Pulling the plug on ERT has created the semblance "of a political and institutional crisis," Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos said Wednesday.
ERT employees were defiantly transmitting rogue broadcasts on the Internet and the Communist party channel, vowing to resist the shutdown.
"We are not leaving the building," Panagiotis Kalfayiannis, the head of ERT's main union, told the AFP news agency.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on a visit to Spain, wondered whether the closure was the "right way to get people to love political decisions".
"Closing a public television is never good news," Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo added.
Athens has pledged to cut 4,000 state-sector jobs this year and another 11,000 in 2014 to keep drawing rescue loans under the EU-IMF package.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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