Greek riot police raid former state broadcaster’s HQ, end journalists’ sit-in

Greek riot police raid former state broadcaster’s HQ, end journalists’ sit-in
Greek riot police have stormed the Athens headquarters of the former state TV broadcaster ERT, and evicted a few dozen of sacked journalists who had occupied the building since June in protest against the closure of the organization.

Riot police, accompanied by a public prosecutor, gathered outside the building in the Agia Paraskevi district in northern Athens, in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday.  They entered the ERT headquarters and removed about 50 protesters who were inside. 

Overall, the operation went peacefully. However, four people were briefly detained, including radio journalist Nikos Tsimbidas, who was broadcasting as law enforcers burst into the studio. 

Riot police clash with people gathered outside the headquarters of former public broadcaster ERT in Athens on November 7, 2013. (AFP Photo/Kostis Ntantamis)

“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, as cited by Associated Press. “We are being removed; I’ve just been informed that it appears orders have been given for me to stop talking.”

Later in the day, police used tear gas to push back a crowd of around 200 people outside the building who came to support the fired journalists.  They were joined by some representatives of the Greek opposition, who attacked the government’s decision to oust the staff from the building, comparing the move with a “coup”.  Protesters attempted to enter the premises several hours after the raid, but were stopped by police.    

Protesters gather on November 7, 2013 outside the headquarters of former Greek public broadcaster ERT in a northern Athens suburb after riot police stormed the building in a pre-dawn raid, forcibly removing employees who had been occupying the site since its shock shutdown five months ago. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

“The government… has carried out a coup against itself and against legality,” a lawmaker for Greece’s leftist party Syriza, Zoe Konstantopoulou said, as cited by the Greek Reporter news website. The comment was echoed by fellow MP Dimitris Stratoulis, who called the operation an “illegal, coup-like act.”

“After the ERT shutdown and the mass layoffs, we have once more seen the face of state violence and terror,” said Communist Party deputy Diamanto Manolakou.

The police initially used a pair of handcuffs to lock the ERT gate and not let anyone into the grounds.  The image went viral on Greek social networks, with many calling it “symbolic.” Later, the handcuffs were reportedly replaced by a lock.

Another public rally was called for later on Thursday outside the former ERT headquarters. The Athens journalists union (ESIEA) urged a three-hour work stoppage from 3 p.m. local time in protest against the eviction of ERT employees, reports Kathimerini English Edition. 

A demonstrator shouts at riot police on November 7, 2013 outside the headquarters of former public broadcaster ERT in Athens. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the evacuation was designed to “restore the rule of law”. Ruling parties also defended the operation, with socialists saying that “the restoration of legality, the free and full operation of public radio and television is necessary … to protect the public interest”.  The social democratic PASOK party stated that “No one should be allowed to stop the modernization of public radio and television in the name of populism and opportunism”.

The sit-it by former ERT employees had been going since June 11, when the Greek government shut down the broadcaster as part of cost-cutting measures amid severe financial crisis.  All 2,700 staff members were fired.
Those who refused to accept the shutdown continued to work by web streaming their output. They repeatedly turned down official demands to leave the building so that ERT successor – EDT public TV could move in and start full-scale broadcasting.  

Following Thursday’s removal the building will be handed over to the new state TV station which has been working from small studios in another part of the Greek capital. A large number of former ERT employees – who initially vowed to protest the closure – were hired by EDT.