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Greek coalition wrestles to avoid collapse

Derek Gatopoulos, Associated Press

A protester leaves the headquarters of Greek state broadcaster , ERT, in Athens, on Sunday, June 16, 2013. Greece's fragile governing coalition failed to reach a compromise Wednesday about the closure of the state-run ERT broadcaster, that has left the government in a crisis that could lead to early elections, just a year after it was formed to save the country from bankruptcy. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Party leaders in Greece's ruling coalition are to meet later Monday to try and heal the rift over the closure of the country's state TV and radio broadcaster that is threatening to topple the government and compromise the country's bailout program.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' fragile three-party coalition, which was formed to save debt-stifled Greece from bankruptcy this time last year, is now flirting with the political instability that has forced three changes of government in as many years.

Both minority leaders in the year-old coalition government have strongly opposed the prime minister's decision last week to shut down the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., or ERT, as part of the country's austerity program. The Prime Minister is to hold talks later in the day with the leaders in an attempt to shore up parliamentary support for the closure.

ERT staff has continued unauthorized live programming since the June 11 closure, backed by European Broadcasting Union which represents public TV and radio stations across the continent.

Samaras, 62, has been credited with rescuing Greece's membership in the euro by sticking to harsh austerity measures imposed by rescue lenders. Debt-stifled Greece has depended on rescue loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund since May 2010. In exchange, it imposed deeply resented income cuts and tax hikes, which has dragged the country deeper into recession, with more than a quarter of the workforce now jobless.

The dispute over ERT has rekindled anti-austerity protests, and even led to warnings from within Samaras' own conservative party that the dispute was putting sacrifices made by Greek tax payers at risk.

Samaras' center-right New Democracy has a narrow lead in opinion polls over the left-wing and anti-bailout Syriza party but would likely be unable to form a government without another coalition if a snap election is held.

But Janis A. Emmanouilidis, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, argued that Samaras could emerge stronger if a compromise is reached.

"There's strong interest from the outside that there is continuity in Greece and stability for some time to come ... So I think the pressure is there," Emmanouilidis said, speaking by telephone from Brussels.

"I think for the coalition — for the smaller coalition partners — I think there is the realization that elections are not in their interest either."

In Berlin, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble praised the accomplishments made by the members of the coalition government, adding that he had accepted an invitation to visit Athens, without a date being immediately set.

"Slowly the shape of a stable economic future is taking shape," Schaeuble said.

At the weekend, Samaras described major protests against ERT's closure as "an excuse to halt reforms" insisting he would not take back his decision to close broadcaster and replace it with new state TV and radio organization with fewer staff and a new charter.

Later Monday, Syriza is planning a protest rally in the city's main Syntagma Square, while a high court will consider a union motion challenging the legality of closing ERT's three terrestrial channels and extensive radio network.


AP writer Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed.