SYRIZA tests gov’t strength after ERT staff forced out

A few hours after riot police removed employees of former public broadcaster ERT from the service’s headquarters in northeastern Athens in a pre-dawn raid, the political fallout from this action gathered pace as SYRIZA submitted a censure motion against the government.

The leftists’ move means that a vote will be held in Parliament by midnight on Sunday, with the New Democracy-PASOK coalition hoping that its shaky five-seat majority will be enough to avoid its collapse. Already on Thursday, Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader Fotis Kouvelis appeared to cast doubt on whether his party, once part of the coalition, would back SYRIZA’s motion. DIMAR’s 14 MPs are due to meet on Friday to finalize their position.

“The road to economic catastrophe and indignity for our people has to stop,” said SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, linking the censure motion to Thursday’s events at ERT and the continuing austerity polices adopted by the government.

His move caught Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his deputy, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, by surprise. After a quick phone call between the pair, it was decided that the coalition would use this as an opportunity to rally its MPs, some of whom had opposed over the last few days the government’s plans for a unified property tax.

“He is essentially doing this to keep his party together,” said government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, referring to differences between Tsipras’s stance on the single currency and the views of euroskeptics in his party. “He is not concerned that this deals a blow to the government at a time when it is negotiating with our lenders, on which all its attention should be focused.”

Riot police raided ERT’s headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi shortly after 4 a.m. on

Thursday and forced out around 50 former employees who had been inside. Four of the employees were detained for questioning but then released, according to police who fired tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside. There were no reports of widespread violence but two SYRIZA MPs, Christos Karayiannidis and Christos Mantas, complained of being beaten by police officers and sprayed with tear gas.

The demonstrators regrouped after the police’s departure and continued a peaceful protest throughout the day with dismissed workers setting up equipment outside the ERT building to air a news broadcast.

The decision to evacuate the ERT building, which has been occupied since the government closed down the broadcaster in June, was made 10 days ago, Kathimerini understands, though the green light for the police raid was given by Samaras following talks with Venizelos on Wednesday.

Kedikoglou said the ERT building had been “under illegal occupation,” noting that the aim of the raid had been to “enforce the law and restore legality.” But SYRIZA MPs were furious, condemning the evacuation as “illegal” and “a coup.”

Several coalition MPs countered that the raid had been overdue, noting that dismissed ERT staff have yet to receive their compensation due to the occupation.

Deputy Culture Minister Pantelis Kapsis, who was tasked with overseeing ERT’s overhaul, said that a new permanent broadcaster, Nerit, will start operating early next year.

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