Greek riot police evict protesters from public broadcaster

AFP , Thursday 7 Nov 2013

Thursday's police raid is likely to cause more outrage in the country, which in January assumes the helm of the European Union's rotating six-month presidency

Greece
Workers and supporters scuffle with riot police near ERT's headquarters in the northern Athens suburb of Agia Paraskevi, Greece early Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Greek riot police burst into the headquarters of former public broadcaster ERT early Thursday and forcibly removed employees who had been occupying the site since its shock shutdown five months ago.

ERT's closure in June sparked an international outcry and nearly brought down the coalition government in debt-laden Greece, which has been implementing painful public-sector restructuring in return for international bailout loans.

Riot police jumped over fences and bust open locks as they stormed the building in the northern Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi in the early hours, going room-to-room to clear the premises, witnesses said.

"From what I saw from the cameras they broke the lock of the main entrance at 4:20 am (0220 GMT)," ERT security guard Nikos Kounoupis told AFP.

"They started jumping in from the metal gates from the sides. They also broke the door of the side entrance. They started running inside."

A representative of the ERT employees' union Pospert, Nikos Tsimbidas, told AFP as he was bundled into a police car that he had been arrestedThursday's police raid is likely to cause more outrage in the country, which in January assumes the helm of the European Union's rotating six-month presidency.

The state-run Athens News Agency reported police picked up three other people, including the head of Pospert, Panagiotis Kalfagiannis.

"I don't know how many people were inside the building, at night we just have people looking after the equipment," said a representative for ERT journalists, Machi Nikolara.

Some 200 protesters quickly gathered outside the building as news of the operation spread, but were pushed back some 100 metres by police.

ERT employees called for more people to protest the forced evacuation.

"We ask everyone to come to the ERT headquarters," said a statement issued shortly after the start of the raid.

In October the government had said the continued occupation of ERT's headquarters was unacceptable because it could jeopardise coverage of Greece's EU presidency, which begins in January.

"(The occupation) is a problem that has to be dealt with," Pantelis Kapsis, the deputy minister responsible for public television, said at the time.

"If the (new) public broadcaster cannot be housed soon in Aghia Paraskevi, it risks not being able to cover Greece's EU presidency," he said.

Disgruntled former employees have been occupying the building since the government's shutdown of ERT on June 11, which made some 2,600 people redundant overnight.

The closure caused an international outcry and nearly brought down the coalition government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras after one of its allies defected over the row.

The government defended the shutdown, saying ERT had become a bloated, ineffective organisation that cost up to 300 million euros (406 million dollars) annually.

It said it would be replaced with a new public broadcaster, Nerit, which was expected to go online in 2014.

Refusing to accept their dismissal, former employees have been maintaining rogue broadcasts from the occupied headquarters, while an interim TV station, DT (Public Television), has been airing from a nearby studio since mid-July.

The debt-racked country, which has depended on international rescue loans for its economic survival since 2010, has promised its EU-IMF creditors it will axe 4,000 state jobs and place 25,000 civil servants on a redeployment scheme by the end of the year.

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