Vice-chancellor resigns amid scandal
Austrian Vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned Saturday after two German newspapers published footage of him apparently offering lucrative government contracts to a potential Russian benefactor.
Standing before journalists and TV cameras, Strache said he was illegally set up in a “political assassination” but added that his behaviour in the video was “stupid, irresponsible and a mistake”.
Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for a snap election, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported on Saturday. Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party is in government with Strache’s far-right Freedom Party.
The scandal has led to speculation about the future of Austria’s governing coalition between Strache’s anti-immigration Freedom Party and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party. Kurz was reportedly planning to issue a statement later Saturday. Among his options, he could replace Strache in the cabinet with another party member or end the coalition and call a new election.
Several thousand opposition protesters whistled and chanted Saturday for a new election in front of Kurz’s office in Vienna.
In his resignation statement, Strache said he was quitting so the coalition could continue its work.
The scandal has wider resonance against a Europe-wide debate over immigration and populism and comes only a few days before elections in 28 European Union nations for lawmakers to the 751-seat European parliament.
Strache’s Freedom Party’s platform says “Austria is not a country of immigration” and cites “cultural Christianity” as one of the country’s social pillars.
The EU elections taking place May 23-26 are seen as a forum by both sides in Europe’s broad argument over immigration and democracy.