Greek police oust workers from ex-broadcaster

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — In a pre-dawn swoop Thursday, Greek riot police ended a nearly five-month protest by sacked workers broadcasting from what was once the headquarters of the defunct ERT state broadcaster, removing a few dozen people occupying the complex.

Police said four people were briefly detained during the operation in the northern Athens suburb of Agia Paraskevi.

About 50 people were removed from the building, which will be handed over to ERT's successor that is now broadcasting from cramped studios in another part of Athens.

Among the detainees was radio journalist Nikos Tsimbidas, who was broadcasting live as police entered the studio.

"Believe me, it's a shocking experience to be on the mic with two platoons of riot police surrounding the live broadcasting booth," he said on air. "We are being removed. I've just been informed that it appears orders have been given for me to stop talking."

The complex had been occupied by the protesting ex-employees since June 11, when Greece's conservative-led government abruptly closed ERT and fired all 2,700 staff, citing the need to cut costs due to the country's severe financial crisis. They continued to produce unauthorized broadcasts online, including airing news reports and documentaries.

These ended Thursday, although regional former ERT branches were still broadcasting their own unauthorized programs.

The evacuation at the ERT headquarters was peaceful, although police later used tear gas to push back a crowd of about 200 who turned up outside the complex to support the former ERT workers. About 1,000 people gathered later Thursday near the building in a peaceful protest against the police operation.

The main left-wing opposition party, Syriza, said it would call a vote of no confidence in parliament against the conservative-led coalition government and described the police operation as illegal. Several Syriza lawmakers joined protesters outside the building.

"The government ... has created a black page in the history of state television and democracy in our country," a party statement said.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the evacuation was to "restore the rule of law."

"The broadcasting complex had been illegally occupied, and that resulted in daily financial losses for the Greek state," Kedikoglou said. "The (police) intervention was carried out in the presence of a prosecutor."

ERT's abrupt closure triggered a political crisis that prompted a junior left-wing ally to walk out of the governing coalition amid daily protests in Greece and international condemnation.

The former workers had turned down repeated government calls to leave the ERT headquarters so that full-scale state broadcasts could resume from the complex.

However, the bulk of ERT's journalists and many other staff, despite initial vows to fight the broadcaster's closure, were eventually rehired by DT, ERT's successor and a transition company under the Finance Ministry.