Austria’s Kurz steps down over corruption probe to save coalition

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imageWorld10 minutes ago (Oct 09, 2021 04:10PM ET)

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(C) Reuters. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is under investigation on suspicion of corruption offences gives a statement at the federal chancellery in Vienna, Austria October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned on Saturday to end a government crisis after his coalition partner said he was unfit to lead the country because he has been placed under investigation on suspicion of corruption.

The move by Kurz, who denies wrongdoing, satisfied the demand by his junior coalition partner, the Greens, that he go even though he plans to stay on as his party’s leader and become its top lawmaker in parliament, positions from which he can continue to influence government policy.

“I would therefore like to make way in order to end the stalemate, to prevent chaos and to ensure stability,” Kurz said in a statement to the media.

He added that he was proposing to President Alexander Van der Bellen that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, a career diplomat backed by Kurz’s party, that he take over as chancellor.

Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler indicated he was satisfied, meaning Kurz had succeeded in pulling their coalition back from the brink.

“I believe this is the right step for future government work,” Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said in a statement, adding that he had had a “very constructive” working relationship with Schallenberg.

A star among Europe’s conservatives and known for his hard line on immigration, Kurz, 35, became one of the continent’s youngest leaders when he took over as chancellor in 2017 at the head of a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday they had placed Kurz and nine others under investigation https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/prosecutors-raid-austrian-conservatives-hq-fresh-headache-kurz-2021-10-06 on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption and bribery with various levels of involvement.

Starting in 2016 when Kurz was seeking to take over as party leader, prosecutors suspect the conservative-led Finance Ministry paid for advertisements in a newspaper in exchange for manipulated polling and coverage favourable to Kurz.

Kurz has pledged to defend himself against what he says are false allegations. He had said he was willing to keep governing with the Greens. But the left-wing party said the investigation made Kurz unfit to serve https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/austrias-greens-question-coalition-ally-kurzs-ability-stay-2021-10-07 as chancellor and called on his party to name a successor who was “beyond reproach”.

NO CONFIDENCE VOTES

The Greens began talks on Friday with Austria’s three opposition parties, which have all demanded that Kurz resign and had planned to submit one or more no-confidence motions against him at a special session of parliament on Tuesday.

Austrian media reports before Kurz’s announcement had said he would step down only temporarily. While Kurz did not say that he did say he would mount a legal defence: “Above all … I will of course use the opportunity to refute and disprove the accusations that have been made against me.”

“Is it enough?” the leader of the liberal Neos party, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, told a news conference soon after Kurz’s statement, referring to the seriousness of the accusations against Kurz.

Austria’s Kurz steps down over corruption probe to save coalition

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