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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Sebastian Kurz: Austrian leader resigns amid corruption inquiry


Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has stepped down, after pressure triggered by a corruption scandal.

As a replacement, he has proposed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

Mr Kurz and nine others were arrested following raids on a number of locations associated with his conservative VP People’s Party.

He denies using government funds to secure favourable coverage in a tabloid newspaper.

The allegations this week pushed his coalition government to the brink of collapse, after the Greens, the coalition’s junior partner, said Mr Kurz was no longer fit to be chancellor.

The Greens began talks with opposition parties, who had threatened to call a vote of no confidence in the chancellor the following week.

Greens leader and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler welcomed Mr Kurz’s resignation and said he would be willing to work with Mr Schallenberg, describing their relationship as “very constructive.”

“What is needed now is stability. To avoid chaos, I’d like to step aside to resolve the impasse “As he announced his resignation, Mr Kurz said.

He stated that he would continue to be the leader of his party and to serve in parliament.

“First and foremost, I will, of course, use this opportunity to refute the allegations levelled against me,” he added.

Mr Kurz will continue to be a major figure in Austrian politics even though he is no longer Chancellor.

He will be present at cabinet meetings as the leader of his party. As a shadow chancellor, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats says he will be pulling the strings.

Other observers point to his close relationship with Alexander Schallenberg, a career diplomat who worked with Mr Kurz as foreign minister when he first entered government.

Some members of Mr Kurz’s party are hoping that his resignation is only temporary and that he will be able to return.

Other Austrians believe that Mr Kurz’s two corruption investigations, as well as the collapse of his last coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party in 2019, indicate that it is time for him to leave politics entirely.

Mr Kurz took over as leader of the VP in May 2017 and led his party to victory in elections later that year, making him one of the world’s youngest democratically elected heads of government at the age of 31.

The allegations of corruption pertain to the period between 2016 and 2018, when finance ministry funds were suspected of being used to manipulate opinion polls in favour of the VP, which were then published in a newspaper.

Despite the fact that no newspaper was named by prosecutors, the tabloid daily Oesterreich issued a statement on Wednesday denying media reports that it had taken taxpayers’ money for advertising in exchange for publishing favourable polls.

Mr Kurz, nine other people, and three organisations have been charged with “breach of trust… corruption… and bribery… partly with varying degrees of involvement,” the Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors raided the chancellery, the finance ministry, and the homes and offices of senior chancellor aides.

Mr. Kurz has called the accusations levelled against him “baseless.”

He also denies wrongdoing in a separate investigation launched in May over allegations that he lied to a parliamentary commission.

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