Greece closes down state-run ERT TV and radio network
Government shocks the public and network staff by silencing ERT in a bid to reduce expenditures
The government has closed public television and radio broadcaster ERT, in a shock move that affects nearly 2,700 jobs.
Thousands rushed to the broadcaster's main headquarters in a northern Athens suburb shortly after the announcement on Tuesday to show their support for the workers.
"ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said.
The announcement comes after months of work stoppages by ERT employees in opposition to plans to restructure the broadcaster as demanded by the nation's international creditors.
Nearly 500 people also gathered outside the organisation's Thessaloniki branch in northern Greece as the news editors union, Poesy, called on private broadcasters to hold an immediate work stoppage in support.
Kedikoglou said the organisation would be reopened at a later stage under a new format and with considerably fewer employees.
As television screens around the country went black, the corridors of the broadcaster's headquarters were filled with stunned employees.
"This is a total shock," ERT journalist Pantelis Gonos said. "We are in contact with a legal adviser and international media organisations."
ERT kept broadcasting as more supporters gathered outside its headquarters, but transmission eventually was suspended, reportedly in the presence of the police.
According to the state-run Athens News Agency, the gradual process of switching off transmitters around the country started during the afternoon.
"Police went on to the mountain and neutralised our people" who managed the transmitter, said Nikos Roukounakis, who said he has been an engineer at ERT for 30 years.
"This is a coup d'etat," Alexis Tsipras, leader of main opposition party Syriza, who rushed to the ERT premises to offer support, told reporters.
As transmission was cut, the finance ministry released a statement saying the broadcaster as an entity had been abolished.
"ERT belongs to the Greek people... It is the only independent, public voice and it has to remain public... We condemn the government's sudden decision," public sector union GSEE said in a statement.
The government said all current employees would be compensated and later allowed to reapply for positions at a revamped organisation.
The junior partners of nation's three-party, conservative-led coalition government also expressed opposition to the shock closure.
"We absolutely disagree with the government's particular decisions and management," the socialists Pasok party said in a statement.
"We will not vote in favour of the law validating this legislative act," the party added, noting nonetheless that governmental cohesion was not at stake over the issue.
On Monday, representatives of Greece's European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank creditors began a regular audit of the country's progress in implementing its austerity programme and structural reforms.
The reforms demanded of Greece include a drastic reduction of the public sector and the merging or closing of public organisations.