Sebastian Kurz resigns as Austrian chancellor amid corruption scandal

Resignation comes after Green party refuses to continue coalition with Mr Kurz at the helm

Sebastian Kurz announced his resignation as Austrian Chancellor on Saturday, bowing to pressure three days after prosecutors said they were pursuing corruption claims against him.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who was named by Mr Kurz as his preferred successor, was holding talks with top officials on Sunday as he began work to try to salvage the ruling coalition.

Austria's Greens, the junior partner in the coalition, had described Mr Kurz's position as untenable and a confidence vote had been scheduled for Tuesday before the chancellor fell on his sword.

Mr Kurz, 35, denies wrongdoing and said he would remain the leader of his centre-right Austrian People's Party in parliament.

He said it would be irresponsible to allow Austria to “slide into months of chaos or gridlock” while it fights the pandemic.

“What we need now are stable conditions,” Mr Kurz told reporters in Vienna. “So, in order to resolve the stalemate, I want to make way to prevent chaos and ensure stability.”

He said was “deeply convinced” he would disprove the corruption charges he faced. “I will be able to clarify it, I'm sure about that,” he said.

Mr Kurz did not address suggestions in Austrian media that he could return to power if he clears his name in the corruption case.

“Sebastian Kurz is chancellor in the shadows,” said Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats. She said Mr Kurz would “continue to pull the strings".

Prosecutors had announced on Wednesday that Mr Kurz and nine other people were under investigation over claims that public money was used to ensure positive media coverage.

The announcement, and accompanying raids on locations linked to the People's Party were the latest development in a long-running saga of corruption claims.

Mr Kurz ended his party's previous coalition with the far-right Freedom party in 2019 after another corruption scandal, this time involving vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

The Freedom party leader had been filmed while appearing to offer favours to a putative Russian investor.

The scandal pushed Mr Kurz out of office for months before an election victory in 2019 allowed him to form a coalition with the Greens.

It was in his capacity as leader of the People's Party that he proposed Mr Schallenberg's name for the Austrian chancellorship.

Mr Schallenberg, 52, has worked in the Foreign Ministry for most of his career and held key positions in the caretaker government formed after Mr Kurz's first government fell.

The Greens said Mr Kurz's departure opened the door to maintaining the coalition rather than seeking an alternative four-way pact that would need some acquiescence from the far right.

His resignation means Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin will reclaim the title of the youngest leader in the EU. She will turn 36 next month.

Updated: October 10th 2021, 12:55 PM
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