Monday 17 June 2019

Far-right ministers quit Austrian government after sting

Task ahead: Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) who said he wanted stability in government, with President Alexander Van der Bellen (left). Photo: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Task ahead: Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) who said he wanted stability in government, with President Alexander Van der Bellen (left). Photo: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Catherene Le Nouvelle

Members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) have quit all their ministerial roles in the Austrian government, according to reports.

The move comes after Chancellor Sebastian Kurz proposed to sack his interior minister, having ended his conservative People's Party's (OVP) coalition with the Freedom Party on Saturday.

The interior minister, Herbert Kickl, had declined to leave the government voluntarily following the schism, which was sparked when a video sting took down the vice chancellor, who also leads the Freedom Party.

Mr Kurz said the vacant posts would be filled by technocrats until elections can be held in September.

Vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was caught in the apparent sting operation offering to fix state contracts for a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece.

Mr Kurz told reporters he would propose to Austria's president removing Mr Kickl from office after he refused to go voluntarily. The FPO had announced that it would quit all its ministerial posts should Mr Kickl be forced out, and made good on the promise after Mr Kurz's remarks.

"We want to guarantee stability until the new elections. That's why we'll fill the vacant jobs in the ministries with experts or senior government officials," Mr Kurz said.

He said this would keep the government operating until elections due in September.

Opposition parties readied a vote of no confidence in the government, and it was not clear that the FPO would side with Mr Kurz in the ballot.

German media published the video on Friday, a week before European Parliament elections and 18 months after Austria once again became the only western European country with far-right cabinet ministers. It has since been joined by Italy.

The video showed Mr Strache meeting the woman in 2017, shortly before the election that brought him into government.

In the footage, Mr Strache discussed rules on party financing and how to work around them. Describing the footage as "targeted political assassination", he said he had done nothing illegal and never met the woman again.

Mr Kurz has argued that Mr Kickl could not oversee an investigation into the sting that snared his party leader.

But Mr Kickl accused Mr Kurz of attempting a power grab for his OVP party.

Irish Independent

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