Greek PM dismisses talk of early election over state broadcaster's closure

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Sunday dismissed talk of an early election over the abrupt closure of the state broadcaster, which brought protests from viewers, workers, the opposition and his coalition partners.

Mr Samaras defended his decision to close ERT and relaunch what he said would be a smaller, more efficient version as a way for Greece to show it was serious about implementing reforms and saving money under the terms of its international bailout.

But a clash between the Prime Minister and his two left-wing coalition partners over when and how to resume public broadcasts has raised the prospect of political turmoil, just a year after Greeks went to the polls, and the derailing of the bailout.

"If some people naively believe that they can trap us into an election dilemma, let them not tire themselves," Mr Samaras told a gathering of his conservative New Democracy party in the seaside town of Nafplio in the Peloponnese.

The decision to take the 75-year-old ERT off air at midnight last Tuesday has split the fragile coalition. Both junior partners have said they want to avoid a new vote, although PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos told a Sunday newspaper he "was not afraid" of an election.

Opinion polls show support for all three ruling parties has suffered since last year's election. No party has enough support to govern alone.

Mr Samaras has invited his allies, who want the immediate reopening of ERT's television and radio stations, to a meeting on Monday. They have so far turned down a compromise to rehire a smaller number of staff to resume news broadcasts.

The government says ERT's three domestic television channels, regional, national and external radio stations cost Greece 300 million euros (S$501 million) a year. Many Greeks have long viewed the broadcaster as a wasteful source of patronage jobs for political parties.

Mr Samaras argues shutting down ERT is the only way to restructure the broadcaster, after previous attempts at reform failed. "This is what we are changing because it's right, because it's fair and because it should have been done years ago," he said.