Thursday 19 September 2019

Austrian leader quits after video scandal

Conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz yesterday pulled the plug on his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party after a damaging video prompted its leader to step down as vice chancellor.

"Enough is enough," Kurz said to reporters, listing several lesser scandals involving the Freedom Party that did not cause their coalition to collapse. He said he would propose a snap election be held as soon as possible.

His comments came after Austria's vice-chancellor and long-time far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down over video footage of him meeting a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch in 2017, shortly before the election which brought him to power.

He appears to offer to funnel contracts towards a company in exchange for political and financial support.

The footage was published by German media just a week before European Parliament elections.

"It was dumb, it was irresponsible and it was a mistake," Strache told a news conference, fighting back tears as he asked his wife and others to forgive him. He maintained, however, that he had done nothing illegal.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Thomas Drozda of the opposition Social Democrats. "I expect the chancellor, who evidently has known about this video for 48 hours, and that his coalition partner is drowning in a swamp of corruption, to speak and explain his position. He has been hiding for 48 hours. He owes the country an explanation."

Surprise victory in Australian elections

Australia's ruling conservative coalition has won a surprise victory in the country's general election, defying opinion polls that had tipped the opposition Labour Party to oust it from power.

Labour leader Bill Shorten yesterday conceded defeat as prime minister Scott Morrison's Liberal Party-led coalition came close to a majority in the 151-seat House of Representatives. Vote counting will continue on Sunday, but poll forecasts give 74 seats to Mr Morrison's coalition, with 65 to Labour and 12 undecided. A total of 76 seats are needed to form a majority government.

The results stand in stark contrast to pre-election polls. In fact there was so much public confidence of a Labour victory that an Australian online bookmaker paid out AUS$1.3m (€800,000) to punters who backed Labour two days before the election.

US will ease off Huawei blacklisting

The US Commerce Department has said it may scale back restrictions on Huawei after last week's blacklisting would have made it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to service existing customers in the US.

The Washington regime, which had effectively halted Huawei's ability to buy US-made parts and components, is considering issuing a temporary general licence to "prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment," a spokeswoman said.

Last week, US President Donald Trump said he was delaying for six months a decision on taxing imported cars and auto parts from the European Union and Japan, with trade negotiations set to continue.

Islamic headscarves under French fire

France's Senate has voted to ban mothers who wear Islamic headscarves from accompanying their children on school trips, in the latest extension of the country's war on the garments.

The ban, proposed by the centre-right Republican party, builds on an existing prohibition on wearing the garments in primary or secondary schools.

The law had been rejected by the national assembly, France's lower house, but was approved in the upper house by 186 votes to 100, with 159 senators abstaining.

The text of the ban technically covers "conspicuous religious symbols" but in practice would mostly affect Muslim parents. The French government has set itself against the plan and hopes to overturn it in the national assembly with the support of its MPs.

Boris clear favourite to be next UK PM

In the UK, Boris Johnson is firm favourite to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader - and prime minister - among the party's grassroots.

A YouGov survey of party members - who have the final say in the contest - put him on 39pc, followed by Dominic Raab on 13pc; Sajid Javid and Michael Gove, both on 9pc; and Jeremy Hunt on 8pc.

Sunday Independent

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