ATHENS, Greece — Greek riot police officers raided the headquarters of the country’s former state broadcaster, ERT, on Thursday, forcibly removing dozens of staff members who had been occupying the building since June when authorities abruptly shut down the organization, citing wasteful spending.
Officers entered the building north of Athens shortly after 4 a.m. and removed around 50 former employees, four of whom were briefly detained for questioning, according to a police spokesman, who said the raid had gone smoothly. Officers fired tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters who had gathered outside the building, but demonstrators regrouped after the officers’ departure and continued their protest.
The crackdown came as Greek officials were locked in tough negotiations with representatives of the country’s international creditors about a projected gap in Greece’s budget for next year and an economic program that includes an ongoing overhaul of the country’s bloated civil service.
Excessive spending at the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp., known as ERT, was the chief reason given by the authorities when they pulled the plug, laying off more than 2,600 workers and prompting a political crisis that nearly brought down the government. Since then, workers have been occupying ERT’s headquarters, airing a pirate broadcast via the Internet. A transitional state broadcaster went on the air in July and a replacement for ERT, to be called NERIT, is expected to start operating next spring.
A government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, said Thursday’s raid had aimed to “apply the law and restore legality,” adding that the building had been “under illegal occupation.”
In a message broadcast online, ERT workers called on supporters to rally outside the broadcaster’s headquarters. “The battle for democracy and social justice which ERT workers have been fighting for more than four months, has reached its most crucial moment,” the message said. “It’s time to act.”
Later in the morning, Greek media reported that ERT workers were planning to set up equipment outside the old headquarters and broadcast from there. Giorgos Kogiannis, a former head of news at ERT who joined the protest outside the building, said at least one employee remained inside. “It’s a big building,” he said. “They didn’t find everyone.”
Nikos Korovilas, a former sports reporter, told the Proto Thema news website: “I’ve been in here for five months, 20 hours a day. I’ve no intention of doing them the favor and quitting so easily.”