'I am still here': Austrian leader ousted, vows to return

Vienna: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria and his caretaker government were ousted from power on Monday with a no-confidence vote in Parliament, as the ramifications of a secretly filmed video added to the political disarray in a European country normally known for stability.

Kurz launched his re-election campaign just hours later.

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After about three hours of debate, a simple majority of lawmakers stood up in a demonstration of their withdrawal of trust from Kurz, 32, making him the first Austrian leader in more than seven decades to be removed from power by his peers in Parliament.

The removal of Kurz, just 17 months after he became chancellor, came despite a gain of 8 percentage points for his conservative People's Party in the European Parliament elections.


"I am still here," Kurz told a crowd of fans and cheering People's Party officials that were bussed to Vienna.

"They cannot stop the change that we have started," he said.

New elections are planned for September, although that process could now be accelerated, with the country led by a caretaker government appointed by President Alexander van der Bellen in the interim.

Kurz's coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party collapsed after the party's leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, resigned as vice chancellor May 18 after a video emerged that showed him promising government contracts to a woman claiming to be a wealthy Russian in exchange for financial support.

The meeting, which was filmed in 2017 without Strache's knowledge, appears to have been a setup. But it raised questions about the Freedom Party's ethics, given their leader's apparent willingness to trade political favours for Russian black money.

Prosecutors in Vienna said on Monday that they had opened an investigation into who was behind the video.

After Strache resigned, Kurz fired Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, a leading Freedom Party member, prompting the remaining far-right ministers to quit in protest. The chancellor called for a snap election in September and replaced the four ministers with technocrats until a new government could be voted into power.

But opposition leaders accused Kurz of abusing their trust in his government by failing to work with them in organising his interim government and by refusing to apologise for his role in the political uncertainty.

"Mr. Chancellor, you and your government do not enjoy our trust," Pamela Rendi-Wagner, the leader of the Socialist Party, told lawmakers before calling for the no-confidence vote.

Kurz had defended his recent actions as necessary and said they had been made in consultation with van der Bellen.

New York Times, DPA