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Greek riot police storm headquarters of former public broadcaster ERT

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Story highlights

  • Police remove former employees who were occupying the building
  • The occupation began after the government shut down the broadcaster
  • The ex-employees have refused to accept the closure, which caused a public outcry
  • They have been broadcasting online from the former headquarters

Greek riot police have stormed the headquarters of shuttered public broadcaster ERT, which former employees had been occupying after it was suddenly closed down in June as part of government cost-cutting measures.

Following prosecutors' orders, police entered the building in the early hours of Thursday and removed the former employees inside.

Since the June closure, the former workers, who refused to accept the shutdown, have been broadcasting online from the headquarters. Banners hanging outside the building have been calling for resistance.

Messages urging support for the demonstrators were posted on social media and the website the former employees have been broadcasting from. Some of the posts referred to the storming of the building as an "invasion against democracy."

"This is something which affects the whole world," said Agis Menoutis, a former ERT journalist. Menoutis called the closing of the broadcaster "a new era of news manipulation."

"We will learn only what some powerful people want us to know," Menoutis said.

A government spokesman said the police operation was carried out "to enforce the law and resume legality."

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"The building was under illegal occupation, which resulted in daily damage of public property," said the spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou. "And the operations took place in the presence of a prosecutor."

The government cited chronic corruption and mismanagement of funds as the reasons for ERT's closure. It said a smaller public broadcaster would be set up in its place.

Public outcry

But the sudden decision to switch off the ERT signal and lay off its 2,600 state workers caused a public outcry and cost Prime Minister Antonis Samaras a coalition partner.

In July, a new government-backed entity, Public Television (DT), went on the air to fill the gap until a new broadcaster is ready. DT mainly hired journalists and technicians from ERT and has been broadcasting from a nearby studio, unable to access the former headquarters because of the occupation.

The deputy minister responsible for public broadcasting, Pantelis Kapsis, has held several rounds of talks with former ERT staff, but no solution has been found. Recently, he warned that "the occupation is a problem that must be dealt with," stressing that it is a matter for judicial authorities.

He has also warned that if the public broadcaster cannot be housed at the ERT headquarters, it may not have the infrastructure needed to cover Greece's six-month European Union presidency, which starts in January 2014.

Political tensions

But the main opposition left-wing party Syriza criticized the storming of the building Thursday.

"With today's riot police invasion into the ERT headquarters, the government is completing its absolute dictatorial actions against information and democracy which began on June 11," the party said in a statement.

The evacuation of the building comes just after a 24-hour general strike by public and private sector unions over continuing austerity cuts.

It also comes as representatives of Greece's lenders, who arrived in Athens earlier this week, are holding talks with the government that could determine whether to unlock further bailout money.