Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announces resignation over corruption allegations

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria on June 11, 2021.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria on June 11, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lisa Leutner

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Saturday that he plans to step down in an effort to defuse a government crisis triggered by prosecutors' announcement that he is a target of a corruption investigation.

Kurz, 35, said he has proposed that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg replace him. But Kurz himself will remain in frontline politics: he said he will become the head of his conservative Austrian People's Party's parliamentary group.

Kurz's party had closed ranks behind him after the prosecutors' announcement on Wednesday. But its junior coalition partner, the Greens, said Friday that Kurz couldn't remain as chancellor and demanded that his party nominate an “irreproachable person” to replace him.

Opposition leaders had called for Kurz to go and planned to bring a no-confidence motion against him Tuesday in parliament.

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

Kurz and his close associates are accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly reports in the media, financed with public money. Kurz, who became the People’s Party leader and then chancellor in 2017, has denied wrongdoing and until Saturday made clear he planned to stay on.

In Saturday's statement, he insisted again that the accusations against him “are false and I will be able to clear this up — I am deeply convinced of that."

Kurz said he will keep his party's leadership as well as becoming its parliamentary group leader.

He responded to the demand for an untainted new leader with Schallenberg, 52. Although loyal to Kurz, Schallenberg has a background in diplomacy rather than party politics.

Schallenberg already served as foreign minister in a non-partisan interim government that ran the European Union nation of 8.9 million people for several months after Kurz’s first coalition with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed in 2019.

The chancellor pulled the plug on the coalition after a video surfaced showing the Freedom Party’s leader at the time, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favours to a purported Russian investor.

Austria's next regular parliamentary election is due in 2024.