Austrian conservative-far right coalition talks near finish line

Austrian conservative-far right coalition talks near finish line
Austria's leader of the People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz talks to the media after meeting with President Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna, Austria, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
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VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s conservatives and far-right Freedom Party (FPO) could complete coalition talks as soon as Friday evening and be sworn in on Monday, officials from both parties said.

A deal between the centre-right People’s Party (OVP) led by 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz and the anti-immigration Freedom Party would mark a major victory for a European far-right party after a flurry of elections this year.

“We are putting effort into this and we would be happy if it was possible to announce an agreement to you today, but I cannot promise it yet,” said Gernot Bluemel, a close Kurz ally and leader of the conservatives in Vienna.

“We hope that we can properly conclude (the last issues) over the course of today. If you want to compare it to a skiing race, we are now doing the last turns before the finish line… I am in good spirits.”

Conservative Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, whom local media and a source close to the coalition talks have named as a candidate for finance minister, told ORF radio “a new government will be sworn in on Monday”.

An FPO source confirmed the envisaged timing for an agreement and swearing-in ceremony, adding a news conference with Kurz and Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was planned for 1800 Vienna time (1700 GMT) on Friday.

The Freedom Party last entered government in 2000, triggering European sanctions against Austria. Such a step has not been flagged this time around, with many European countries having shifted to the political right.

Kurz, whose party won just over 31 percent in October’s parliamentary elections, is all but certain to become chancellor with Strache — whose FPO got 26 percent for third place after the Social Democrats — as his deputy.

Freedom Party officials are set to fill major ministries, including the interior, foreign, defence, health and social affairs and infrastructure portfolios. This list has been neither confirmed nor denied by party officials.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy; Editing by Michael Shields)

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