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Reshuffle imminent in Greece after coalition defection

Cabinet reshuffle in Greece expected after partner of ruling coalition defected over closure of state broadcaster earlier in June

AFP , Saturday 22 Jun 2013
Greece
A cameraman stands at a balcony of Greek state broadcaster ERT headquarters in the northern suburb of Agia Paraskevi in Athens June 14, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Greece was on Saturday poised for an cabinet reshuffle after the defection of the ruling coalition's smallest partner in a row over the closure of the state broadcaster.

Talks were ongoing between cadres of conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok, the two remaining partners of the coalition, the state-run Athens News Agency said.

A meeting between conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos was also expected during the weekend, ANA said.

Samaras has pledged to stay the course of debt reforms after the pullout of moderate leftist party Democratic Left, which cut down the coalition's parliamentary majority to just three deputies.

Just over a year after coming to power, the conservatives will now stick it out with Venizelos, the former finance minister who brokered Greece's debt cutback in 2012.

A reshuffle that will bring several socialists into the government -- including Venizelos himself, according to reports -- is expected by Tuesday.

"The reshuffle is a matter of days or even hours," said Ethnos daily, adding: "Its mission will be anything but easy."

However a government official said it was "doubtful" the actual shake-up would take place over the weekend.

"We believe the government will be more solid now," said the official, arguing that the moderate leftists had often" raised issues" that complicated legislative work.

Fears of an early election dissipated after the coalition's socialist partners said they would continue to support the embattled government.

"No one wants elections right now... we will do our full (four-year) term," Samaras said in a televised address late on Thursday.

A number of unpopular measures lie ahead, including mass civil service layoffs, state asset sales and possibly new taxes next year.

Political observers note that Samaras drew some harsh lessons last week after trying to strong-arm his allies, who already faced pressure from their own parties over the austerity reforms needed to maintain access to EU-IMF bailout loans.

In May, the conservatives backtracked over an anti-racism bill which the socialists and moderate leftists strongly championed, causing a serious rift in the government.

Samaras -- who takes a stronger stance on undocumented immigration than his coalition partners -- also wanted to toughen naturalisation requirements for migrants against the wishes of his allies.

And the last straw was Samaras' shutdown of state broadcaster ERT on 11 June despite warnings from socialists Pasok and the Democratic Left that they would not support such a controversial measure.

"Samaras must abandon any desire to govern unilaterally," the top-selling Ta Nea daily said on Saturday.

"Any repeat of the ERT handling would have disastrous consequences," the centre-left newspaper warned.

ERT staff have been holding sit-ins at company headquarters in Athens and Thessaloniki for nearly two weeks to protest against the shutdown, which cost nearly 2,700 jobs.

The government has called on them to vacate the premises but the ERT union refuses to budge.

"The company offices must be freed from occupation... the employees cannot be compensated before this happens because we need access to pay archives inside ERT," the government source said.

"We would like the former staff to show understanding.

Greece's top administrative court last week confirmed ERT's demise but told the government to restore public broadcasts through other means.

But with ERT in the hands of its former staff, the government is in a bind.

"We would like to operate from ERT's headquarters but if the occupation continues we have alternative solutions," the government official said, declining to elaborate on the options.

"We will continue to show restraint, we do not intend to raise tension" by using police to clear the facilities "as there are many alternative solutions... this is the electronic age," he said.

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