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Greece in crisis over state TV shutdown

ATHENS -- Greece's fragile governing coalition failed to reach a compromise yesterday about the closure of the state-run ERT broadcaster. That left the government in a crisis that could lead to early elections, just a year after it was formed to save the country from bankruptcy.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras derided ERT TV and radio as "a true symbol of privilege and lack of transparency." In a speech to business leaders, Samaras said that "the sinful ERT is finished."

The three-party government yanked ERT off the air late Tuesday, axing all 2,656 jobs as part of its cost-cutting drive demanded by international creditors. The move sparked intense protests from both Samaras' coalition partners and Greek unions, which slammed it as a blow to media freedoms and called a general strike for today.

Several thousand protesters gathered peacefully for a second night yesterday outside ERT's Athens headquarters. The government plan is for a leaner, cheaper version of ERT to open before the end of the summer.

Samaras' comments left little leeway for an agreement with his center-left allies, PASOK and the Democratic Left -- without whom his conservative party has no parliamentary majority with which to pass key reforms demanded by Greece's international bailout creditors.

"If the country is led to elections, Mr. Samaras will be responsible," Democratic Left spokesman Andreas Papadopoulos said, commenting on the prime minister's speech.

Following an emergency meeting, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left chief Fotis Kouvelis offered Samaras an olive branch, saying they were committed to keeping the coalition alive. But they insisted on top-level talks with Samaras aimed at keeping ERT going.

Despite tensions over austerity measures, the coalition government has surprised many people by surviving its first year in power. It has also been credited with stabilizing the bailed-out Greek economy.

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