Europe

ERT closure: Greek unions stage 24-hour protest strike

A general strike, in protest at the Greek government's surprise move to shut down state broadcaster ERT with nearly 2,700 jobs being lost, has brought many public services to a halt.

The 24-hour strike, which includes Greek media, began at midnight (21:00 GMT).

Marches in Athens converged outside ERT's offices.

PM Antonis Samaras insists ERT was a "symbol of waste and lack of transparency".

The measure is designed to help Greece meet its debt bailout obligations.

Media rights body Reporters without Borders said that while restructuring ERT might have been necessary, it wondered whether "the Greek state is not cutting down on democracy", its head, Christophe Deloire, told the AFP news agency,

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks called the move an "ill-advised step'' that had sent "a chilling signal to the media and stirs tensions in a country already suffering from a serious financial and social crisis", in a statement sent to the Associated Press news agency.

Public transport hit

Thursday's general strike, which is the third this year, has been affecting government offices, schools and hospitals.

It has also meant buses, trams, ferries and trains are not running, with no metro service to Athens' main airport.

Air traffic controllers held a two-hour walk-out earlier on Thursday.

ERT journalists have been staging defiant sit-ins in the capital and in Greece's second city, Thessaloniki.

The government says riot police are stationed outside ERT offices to prevent "any destruction".

Most of the broadcaster's output has been taken off air since Tuesday, although shortwave radio and internet broadcasts continue.

Journalists across all media are also calling for an indefinite protest - excluding those ERT stations airing rogue broadcasts maintained by workers who have refused to leave their posts.

"This is a very important struggle that impacts on everybody, because the draft bill is not only about ERT, it's about thousands of other workers too because it's a green light for thousands of lay-offs in public organisations," Georgios Milionis of the communist-backed labour group, the All-Workers Militant Front, told Associated Press.

But there has been little sign of private businesses joining the strike.

'No sympathy'

City streets were full as usual with commuters and car traffic.

Supermarkets were open for business and cafes serving customers as usual.

"The lowest ERT employee is making in a day what I'm making in a week, so why should I strike for them?" vegetable seller Yannis Papailias told Reuters news agency in Athens.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Who protested for them?" asked waitress Maria Skylakou.

Unions representing about 2.5 million workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Greece since Europe's debt crisis erupted in late 2009, although action has been less frequent and more muted lately than last year when marches frequently turned violent.

Corruption and mismanagement are widely known to exist within ERT, a public company symptomatic of Greece's past mistakes, the BBC's Mark Lowen in Athens reports.

But employees maintain successive governments were responsible as they were in charge, our correspondent adds.

Anger

The government says ERT was a huge drain on public resources, and will reopen at a later date under a new format and with considerably fewer staff.

All 2,655 employees will be compensated and allowed to apply for jobs at the revamped organisation.

The announcement came after months of strikes by ERT employees in opposition to plans to restructure the broadcaster.

Athens has pledged to cut thousands of public-sector jobs as part of agreements under which it receives billions of euros in rescue loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

ERT, which began broadcasting in 1938, is funded by a direct payment of 4.30 euros (£3.80; $6) added monthly to electricity bills.

It ran three domestic TV channels, four national radio stations, as well regional radio stations and an external service, Voice of Greece.

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