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Greek PM faces coalition revolt

Antonis Samaras faced a political revolt from his ruling coalition partners over state TV shutdown.

Antonis Samaras faced a political revolt from his ruling coalition partners over state TV shutdown. Picture: AFP

ATHENS - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras faced a political revolt on Wednesday from his ruling coalition partners after the government abruptly switched the state broadcaster off the air in the middle of the night.

Screens went black on state broadcaster ERT, cutting newscasters off mid-sentence only hours after the decision was announced, in what the government said was a temporary measure to staunch a waste of taxpayers' money.

Unions called a 24-hour nationwide general strike in protest, and journalists across all media called an indefinite strike. Some newspapers were shut and private TV stations broadcast reruns of soap operas and sitcoms instead of the news.

Samaras's centre-left coalition partners said they were furious at the decision to shut the broadcaster and had not been consulted. Coalition party leaders were meeting as night fell, with the suggestion left hovering in the air that they could force Samaras into a confidence vote which could bring him down.

The confrontation brought back a febrile atmosphere of political drama in a country that had seemed to be emerging from a pattern of relentless political crisis accompanying one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses in history.

Also on Wednesday, the Athens bourse was cut to emerging market status by index provider MSCI, making Greece the first country ever to lose the status of a developed market. The gesture was not only symbolically embarrassing but could also force fund managers that track indexes to ditch investments.

That followed the derailing of Greece's privatisation program earlier this week with the announcement that a gas firm could not be sold. The setbacks have reversed a rise in investor confidence that had prompted Samaras to say the risk of Greece being expelled from the euro zone was over and a "Greekovery" was under way.

Centre-right leader Samaras has ruled in fragile coalition with two centre-left parties since narrowly winning power last year. Angry at the abrupt fashion that ERT was yanked off air; the junior partners - the Socialist PASOK and the Democratic Left - said they would table a law to reverse the move.

"ERT has become a catalyst on issues of democracy, a fair state, cohesion of this government and stability regarding the course of the country," PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos said in a statement after a meeting of his own party. "We shouldn't create crises without a reason out of nothing."

One official from the New Democracy party said Samaras was considering calling a confidence vote over the issue, although a senior government official denied plans to do so.

"It could be highly destabilising if it moves to a confrontation in parliament where the two smaller political parties have to humble themselves to avoid a next election or stick to it and force a next election," said political analyst Theodore Couloumbis.