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General strike in Greece in TV row

Unions in Greece are holding a general strike following the closure of state-run TV and radio which has divided the government coalition.

The protest by Greece's two largest unions disrupted public transport and left state hospitals running on skeleton staff, while flights were to be grounded for two hours later on Thursday.

Conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras has insisted the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp, ERT, will remain closed and all 2,600 staff will be made redundant before a new public broadcaster opens at the end of the summer. But his centre-left coalition partners have submitted legislation to parliament to cancel ERT's closure.

The executive order to close ERT must be ratified by parliament within three months but cannot be approved without backing from the minority coalition MPs.

The Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union, representing Europe's public TV channels, began streaming online broadcasts by fired ERT staff who are occupying the building's headquarters for a third day.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the company's headquarters north of Athens on Wednesday as journalists defied the order and continued a live internet broadcast.

The civil servants' union ADEDY and the larger GSEE union launched the nationwide strike. Journalist unions also launched rolling 24-hour strikes, halting private television news programmes.

The surprise closure of ERT is one of the biggest crises to afflict the three-party coalition government since it was formed nearly a year ago. Despite tensions over a number of issues, notably related to the austerity measures demanded by Greece's international creditors, the coalition government has surprised many by surviving. It has also been credited with stabilising the bailed out Greek economy and easing the threat of an exit from the euro.

Left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras slammed the closure as "illegal" during an interview on ERT's online broadcast. "Many times the word 'coup' is used as an exaggeration," he said. "In this case, it is not an exaggeration." ERT started radio programming in the 1930s and television in the mid-1960s. Alhough it was widely regarded as reflecting government positions - it had a channel run by the military during the 1967-74 dictatorship - the broadcaster was also valued for showcasing regional and cultural content and for covering major sporting events such as the football World Cup and the Olympics.

The decision to close it was announced during an inspection in Athens by officials from Greece's bailout creditors. The so-called "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund has been pressing the government to start a long-delayed programme to fire civil servants.

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