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Originally published June 14, 2013 at 3:36 AM | Page modified June 14, 2013 at 1:06 PM

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Greek PM raises stakes on broadcaster's closure

Greece's prime minister has raised the stakes in a fight with key government allies over his decision to shut "sinful" state-run TV, offering a minor compromise while suggesting he would risk early elections unless they back him.

Associated Press

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ATHENS, Greece —

Greece's prime minister has raised the stakes in a fight with key government allies over his decision to shut "sinful" state-run TV, offering a minor compromise while suggesting he would risk early elections unless they back him.

Antonis Samaras' remarks Friday came just a week shy of his first anniversary in office. His fragile three-party coalition formed to save debt-stifled Greece from bankruptcy is now flirting with the political instability that has forced three changes of government in as many years.

Simmering disagreements came to a head with Samaras' surprise decision Tuesday to close Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, with the loss of 2,656 jobs. Announced in the name of cost-cutting imposed by the country's bailout creditors, the closure has been condemned in Greece and abroad as a blow to media freedoms.

Early Friday, the head of Europe's public broadcasters arrived in Athens to show support for ERT staff and demand the government put it back on the air.

The European Broadcasting Union has helped sacked ERT workers maintain online and satellite broadcasts in defiance of the government.

Samaras wants to reopen a streamlined version of ERT from scratch in coming months, and insisted Friday his two center-left minority partners abandon efforts to keep the broadcaster alive.

In proposals to Socialist PASOK and the Democratic Left, Samaras urged support for a plan to replace ERT with a new company, while in the meantime "a small number" of workers are hired to restart news broadcasts "straight away."

"I expect a similar responsible position from the (other two) political leaders," he said in a written statement. "That will allow our cooperation to proceed unhindered and the positive course of the economy to continue, and will prevent adventures for our people."

But a Democratic Left spokesman said his party had rejected similar proposals hours earlier.

"Mr. Samaras is clearly exerting pressure, with the aim of shifting the blame onto his coalition partners," Gerassimos Georgatos told the Associated Press. "But he bears the exclusive responsibility, with his surprise move (to close ERT down)."

A PASOK statement also dismissed the prime minister's proposal. Both minority partners want Samaras to rescind the decree closing ERT, and fully reopen it pending a waste-cutting overhaul.

The three party leaders are due to meet Monday.

A poll published Friday indicated that 65 percent of Greeks are against ERT's closure, compared to 27 percent who back the move, and some 86 percent said they are dissatisfied with the government. The VPRC poll for Greece's TVXS news website gave a 3.1 percent margin of error.

It indicated that while the main opposition Radical Left, or Syriza party is slightly ahead of Samaras' conservatives in popularity, but both lack the necessary support to govern alone.

ERT's shutdown has drawn growing international criticism, including from Europe's top human rights official.

And EU parliament president Martin Schulz also urged Greece to allow ERT to broadcast with government permission, describing the closure as a threat to Europeans' right to "the freedom and pluralism in the media."

Jean-Paul Philippot, president of the Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union, met Friday with Greece's Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to hand him a petition signed by 51 European broadcast executives calling for the broadcaster's signal to be restored immediately.

Signatories include the directors of Britain's BBC, Germany's ZDF and French Television.

"We are here because it's never happened in Europe. Since the EBU was created (in 1950) no government has cut the signal of a broadcaster," Philippot told reporters at a recording studio in the occupied ERT building, about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of central Athens.

"This undemocratic and unprofessional action of the Greek government undermines the existence of public service media in Greece and its independence from the government," the EBU letter said.

"We strongly urge the Greek prime minister to immediately reverse this decision."

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Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed.

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Online:

EBU letter: http://www3.ebu.ch/cms/en/sites/ebu/contents/news/2013/06/50-directors-general-of-PSM.html(hash)list

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