Greek riot police storm ex-state TV building, break up fired journalists' sit-in

ATHENS - Riot police stormed the former Greek state television headquarters in Athens on Thursday and evicted dozens of fired journalists, ending a five-month sit-in against the broadcaster's closure.

The government took ERT off air in June to meet a target for public-sector job cuts set by foreign lenders, triggering a political crisis that prompted one party to quit the ruling coalition.

The pre-dawn eviction by police came as inspectors from European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders were in Athens reviewing the progress it made in meeting the targets of its multibillion bailout before disbursing more funds.

Minor scuffles broke out between some protesters and riot police, who had cordoned off the area and blocked the entrance to the building that has been draped for months with banners reading "ERT Open" and "No to layoffs".

Police fired a few rounds of teargas to disperse small groups of protesters and briefly detained four people for resisting authorities during the raid, officials said.

Some of the journalists, who have kept ERT alive with an illegal news feed over the Internet for five months, refused to leave the yard of the building, where hundreds of chanting ERT supporters rallied.

More rallies were planned for later in the day.

"This is how fascism works, slyly and in darkness," said Ms Adrianna Bili, a former ERT employee, after she and other protesters were evicted from the building.

"I feel like they have raped me, like they have violated my home, they have violated my life, democracy. They have destroyed everything," she said.

On Thursday, the channel showed footage of an empty newsroom and images of the headquarters with the text "ERT belongs to all Greeks" running across it.

The government said the police operation shortly after 4am was carried out to "apply the law and restore legality".

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, a former ERT journalist himself, said ERT was "under illegal occupation".

Inside the building, police checked in the presence of a prosecutor whether facilities and equipment had been damaged since the broadcaster's closure.

"The government has reached such a point of delirium that it is staging a coup against itself," said Ms Zoe Konstantopoulou, a senior lawmaker from the leftist opposition Syriza party, who rushed to the building in solidarity with ERT workers.

"Some people will be held accountable before history and future generations," she said.

The government's sudden decision to switch off ERT's signal in June and fire its 2,600 employees to please EU/IMF lenders shocked many in Greece and reduced Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's majority in the 300-seat Parliament.

The Democratic Left party, which quit the coalition in protest, accused the government on Thursday of being "autocratic" in implementing reforms and of "violently restructuring state TV".

The government has since launched a new television channel called Public TV, or DT.

A message on ERT's Facebook page calling for people to protest in solidarity read: "It's time to act. Rally now!"