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Greece vows faster reforms after political crisis

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ELENA BECATOROS | June 25, 2013 10:15 AM EST | AP

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised Tuesday to speed up austerity reforms a day after being forced to reshuffle his cabinet due to a political crisis triggered by the closure of state broadcaster ERT.

Samaras' year-old coalition government narrowly avoided collapse after he ordered the sudden closure of ERT on June 11, firing all 2,656 employees.

Junior member Democratic Left pulled out of the coalition last week over the issue, leaving Samaras with a slender majority in parliament, controlling 153 of the 300 seats. In a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, he handed key posts to the coalition government's minority Socialist party.

"This government doesn't have a moment to lose," Samaras told his new cabinet shortly after the swearing-in ceremony. "Stability is today more necessary than ever."

Greece has promised to axe 15,000 public sector jobs by the end of next year as part of cuts demanded by bailout creditors, the International Monetary Fund and other euro countries.

Debt inspectors from the "troika" of the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank are due to return to Athens next week to determine if the reforms are on track and Greece can keep receiving its loans.

The EU rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, confirmed Tuesday it had paid out its latest installment, worth 3.3 billion euros ($4.3 billion).

The focus of the cost-cutting is moving away from tax increases and salary cuts toward more complex long-term reforms aimed at making the state and the economy run more efficiently. But the government still faces tough decisions, particularly in reducing the number of public sector jobs.

In Athens, fired ERT workers continued unauthorized broadcasts, streamed online, and said they would resume coverage later Tuesday of live sporting events, with the Under 20 World Cup in Turkey.

Protest organizers urged Samaras' new ministers to start a dialogue with ERT to reform the broadcaster while keeping its signal on the air.

"If the government wants to restructure ERT we agree," Panagiotis Kalfagiannis, leader of the broadcast workers' union Pospert, said. "We want restructuring. Not a padlocked ERT," he said.

A high court last week ruled that the government was within its rights to close ERT but said it was illegal to shut down the signal.

Apart from the ERT crisis, Samaras is faced with a host of acute problems including shortages in health care and staggering unemployment, which has topped 27 percent.

Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos, who led tough financial negotiations with Greece's creditors during his term as finance minister in 2011 but who has seen his party's popularity plummet, was named deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

New ministers were also appointed for the posts of justice, administrative reform, transport and defense, among others, while Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras remained in the position.

Left-wing opposition Syriza argued Samaras' new cabinet line-up was doomed, having less political support to push through increasingly unpopular measures.

"They have moved further away from society's aspirations and promised to step up their attack on workers' rights," a party statement said. "Mr. Samaras' days are numbered."

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AP writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report.