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Crisis threatens Greece coalition stability

Leftist partner considers pulling out of Samaras government after collapse of talks to resume state TV broadcasts.

Last Modified: 21 Jun 2013 03:54
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Samaras said Friday he was determined to avoid early elections despite the threat faced by his government [AFP]

Greece's small Democratic Left party could pull out of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's ruling coalition after the collapse of talks to resume state television broadcasts, according to party officials.

Legislators 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.

Samaras said in a statement televised live on Friday that he is determined to avoid early elections despite the developments.

One year into his mandate, at the head of a three-party coalition formed to stave off financial collapse, Samaras said his overriding priority was to persevere with changes demanded by international creditors to keep the country's rescue loans flowing.

"We have three years left, and we will see them through," he said.

Broadcaster's closure

The political crisis has been prompted by Samaras' unpopular decision last week to take the state-run broadcaster ERT off the air to save money, eliminating all 2,656 jobs.

Both his centre-left minority partners objected strongly, but matters came to a head late on Thursday when the Democratic Left party rejected a compromise that the Socialist PASOK party accepted.

"I want us to proceed all together, as we started," Samaras said after the negotiations broke down.

"But I will forge ahead in any case."

"I want us to continue together as we started but I will move on either way," Samaras said in a televised statement on Thursday, pledging 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."

Potential blow

Samaras's New Democracy party and its 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 legislators have also suggested they would back Samaras's government.

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.

Under attack

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 members 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 re-establishing cooperation."

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