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BREAKING NEWS

Austrian opposition attacks Kurz as caretaker cabinet takes over

Austrian opposition attacks Kurz as caretaker cabinet takes over
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and new Vice Chancellor Hartwig Loeger attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers in Vienna, Austria May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger -
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LEONHARD FOEGER(Reuters)
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By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's opposition, which holds the key to whether Chancellor Sebastian Kurz can cling to power for now, attacked the young conservative on Wednesday as he swiftly replaced far-right ministers with technocrats as a stopgap until a snap election.

Kurz, 32, came out on top in an initial power struggle with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Tuesday after he managed to oust their hardline interior minister in the wake of a video sting that brought down the FPO's leader and ended their coalition.

But Kurz must now win the support of the opposition Social Democrats or a furious FPO to survive a no-confidence vote due on Monday that could deal him a serious blow ahead of the snap election, which is expected in September.

"It would really be the order of the day for the chancellor to move from 'I' to 'we' now," deputy parliament speaker Doris Bures, a heavyweight within the Social Democratic Party (SPO), told broadcaster ORF overnight. She called on him to take "confidence-building measures" in the coming days.

Her party said Kurz had not consulted them on his choice of civil servants who on Wednesday took over four government posts including those of interior and defence minister.

Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, appointed by the FPO but not a party member, stayed on.

QUESTION OF TRUST

The new ministers, who include a former judge and two with ties to the SPO, were sworn in at the president's office on Wednesday afternoon.

A prominent lawmaker has said he will file a motion of no-confidence in Kurz, leader of the centre-right People's Party, when parliament next meets on Monday.

"In life you always have to earn trust. And the last few days have shown that the chancellor has done nothing to ensure that parliament, which at the end of the day will take this decision, can place this trust in him," Bures said.

SPO leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner has said that instead of replacing only FPO ministers with technocrats, all cabinet members including Kurz should have been switched out.

However, the SPO has said it will only decide on Monday how to vote.

The FPO, whose ministers stepped down in unison in response to Kickl's ouster, also said it had not yet decided how to vote. It is likely the party will want to deliver Kurz a political blow for calling off their coalition after a year and a half.

Kurz had argued that since Kickl was party chairman when the sting took place, he should not oversee the security services while they investigate any crimes or other wrongdoing exposed in the video. Kickl said it was simply a power grab by Kurz.

President Alexander Van der Bellen, who is holding talks with all parliamentary parties, said on Tuesday they all agreed on the importance of ensuring stability during the transition, adding: "The unanimity on this point is a start."

Kurz pulled the plug on his coalition last weekend after the release of a video that showed FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache apparently discussing fixing state contracts and how to circumvent party financing laws with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch's niece. It is unclear who was behind the sting.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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