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Greek TV closure sparks strike

Greece's two largest unions have called a 24-hour general strike for Thursday to protest at the government's move to close state-run TV and radio, a decision that has shocked the public and triggered a political crisis.

Broadcast signals went dead early on Wednesday, hours after the government closed the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, known as ERT, and fired its 2,500 workers, citing the need to cut "incredible waste."

But thousands of protesters remained outside the company's headquarters north of Athens as journalists defied the order and continued a live Internet broadcast.

The civil servants' union ADEDY said it had called a strike and a series of protests to be held outside the ERT headquarters. The larger GSEE union was also meeting to ratify the decision and join the nationwide strike.

Journalist unions also launched rolling 24-hour strikes, halting private television news programs, while the government's centre-left coalition partners demanded that ERT's closure be reversed.

A government spokesman said a new public broadcaster would be launched before the end of the summer. "When you restructure something from the foundations, you have to close it, temporarily," he said.

But conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras faces stern opposition from his own coalition partners - the Socialist Pasok and Democratic Left party - for the decision. The executive order to close ERT must be ratified by parliament within three months but cannot be approved without backing from the minority coalition lawmakers.

The surprise closure of ERT is now 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.

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