Austrian leader Sebastian Kurz steps down amid corruption scandal

Vienna, Oct 9 (EFE).- Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stepped down Saturday amid a corruption inquiry targeting him, his closest aides and the ruling conservative OVP People’s Party.

The 35-year-old Kurz will be succeeded by Alexander Schallenberg, a career diplomat who had been serving as foreign minister. Kurz will remain his party’s chairman and keep his seat in parliament.

“I want to step aside to avoid chaos and guarantee stability,” he said in a statement to the media, adding that he had proposed to President Alexander Van der Bellen that Schallenberg assume the position of chancellor.

Kurz, who became one of the world’s youngest democratically elected heads of government in 2017, was forced to step down after the environmental Greens, a minority partner in the governing coalition, made it clear they would withdraw their support otherwise.

Shortly after his resignation, the Greens said they accepted Schallenberg’s nomination as new chancellor.

Kurz, nine of his aides and the OVP party are accused of using government funds in 2016 to commission and publish manipulated polls that reflected poorly on then-OVP leader Reinhold Mitterlehner.

Anti-corruption prosecutors say that campaign was coordinated with a Vienna tabloid and allowed Kurz, then the country’s foreign minister, to take the reins of the party in 2017, break up the coalition between the OVP and the social-democratic SPO party and win that year’s election by a wide margin.

The allegations are based on a series of text messages between the then-foreign minister and his aides that were seized as part of a separate investigation.

News of the investigation and the raids of suspects’ offices and homes rocked the Austrian political scene this week, coming shortly after the governing coalition introduced a major tax reform bill that had been negotiated with the Greens and featured a levy on carbon emissions.

Referring Saturday to the allegations, Kurz reiterated that they are “false” and vowed to prove his innocence.



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