PM, coalition partners brace for crucial talks

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to meet his coalition partners -- PASOK's Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left -- at 7.30 p.m. on Monday in a bid to hammer out a compromise on a widening dispute over the closure of state broadcaster ERT last week that has threatened the coalition's fragile cohesion.

The spat intensified over the weekend, fueling speculation about possible early elections. Samaras insisted in a speech that he was not pushing for snap polls, but reforms, and suggested that his coalition partners were trying to obstruct him. Pasok and Democratic Left reacted angrily, both accusing Samaras of acting unilaterally and arrogantly and reminding him that the coalition is composed of three parties.

The junior partners have so far turned down a compromise on the ERT dispute extended by Samaras involving rehiring a smaller number of staff to resume news broadcasts. They appeared unwilling to shift on this stance while Samaras too seemed unbending in his insistence that ERT remain closed and that any discussion focus on the composure of a new leaner state broadcaster purged of graft.

Underlining the crucial nature of Monday's talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly telephoned Samaras on Sunday to hail his government's efforts on reforms, which have been linked to the ongoing release of rescue loans by foreign creditors.