Greece's small Democratic Left party has decided to pull its ministers from the three-party ruling coalition, a senior party official confirmed on Friday.
"On the basis of developments and the prime minister's policies, the Democratic Left has decided to withdraw its ministers and general secretaries from government," Dimitris Hatzisokratis, a member of the party's executive committee, told Reuters after an emergency meeting of the party's lawmakers.
The smallest party in the governing alliance, the Democratic Left has two ministers and two deputy ministers in the cabinet.
The party has not yet decided on whether to back the government from outside during parliamentary votes, party officials said.
Splits emerged early on Friday among the party's 14 lawmakers, with one deputy saying its hould stay in government and another that it should quit.
Samaras's conservative New Democracy party and its Socialist PASOK ally jointly have 153 deputies, a majority of three in the country's 300-member parliament. That means they could manage without the Democratic Left, but a departure of the party would be a major blow.
Officials from all three parties ruled out snap elections, which would derail Greece's bailout programme.
An ongoing inspection visit to Greece by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund needs to be completed as planned in July to avoid a shortfall in the country's finances, lenders said on Thursday.
At least two independent lawmakers have suggested they would back Samaras's government,which came to power a year ago and has bickered ever since over austerity and immigration.
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The latest crisis began nine days ago when Samaras abruptly yanked ERT off air, calling it a hotbed of waste and privilege, sparking an outcry from his two allies, unions and journalists.
Samaras was acting under pressure to fire public sector employees to show Greece's EU and IMF lenders that it is sticking to promises to cut costs under its bailout programme.
After initially refusing to restart ERT, Samaras on Thursday said he offered tore-hire at a new broadcaster about 2,000 out of 2,600 ERT workers who were fired, a compromise accepted by PASOK but rejected by the Democratic Left.
"We will no longer have black screens on state TV channels but we are not going to return to the sinful regime," Samaras said.
"At this point we had a serious disagreement over ERT. I undertook efforts to restore unity and to find a solution."
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But Fotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left, insisted that all workers be rehired, saying the issue at stake was far bigger than state television broadcasts.
"This issue is ... fundamentally an issue of democracy," said Kouvelis "We are not responsible for the fact that no common ground was reached."
Evangelos Venizelos, leader of PASOK - which has heavily suffered from Greece's debt crisis and would lose further in a new election - also called on Kouvelis to stay in the coalition.
"The situation for the country, the economy and its citizens is especially grave," said Venizelos. "We want the government to continue as a three-party government."
PASOK would continue backing the government even without the Democratic Left, party spokesman Dimitris Karydis said.
'BEGINNING OF THE END'
Greece's top administrative court on Thursday confirmed an earlier ruling suspending ERT's closure and calling for a transitional, slimmed-down broadcaster to go on air immediately.
ERT remains off air despite Monday's court ruling ordering it back on. Much of the squabbling this week centred on Samaras wanting a transitional broadcaster run by only a few staff members while his two partners wanted ERT to reopen exactly as it was before until a newer version is launched.
ERT workers meanwhile have continued broadcasting a 24-hour bootleg version on the Internet from their headquarters, where workers and unions have been protesting since last Tuesday.
"This is the beginning of the end," independent lawmaker Nikos Nikolopoulos tweeted, referring to Samaras's government.