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Austria's Chancellor Kurz steps down amid corruption probe

A photo taken on April 28, 2021 shows then Austrian Chancellor and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (R) addressing a press conference following a ministerial council meeting at the Chancellery in Vienna. (Photo by AFP)

Austria's unpopular right-wing chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has resigned days after prosecutors raided his office as part of a widening corruption investigation.

Kurz, who has been placed under formal legal investigation for corruption charges, left his post on Saturday as his coalition partners were preparing the ground to launch a no-confidence vote to force him out.

Kurz claimed in a statement that he resigned "to prevent chaos and to ensure stability."

Prosecutors have placed Kurz and nine others under investigation on suspicion of breach of trust, corruption, and bribery with various levels of involvement.

Kurz proposed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, 52, a career diplomat supported by Kurz's party, as his replacement.

Kurz, 35, was one of Europe's youngest leaders when he formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party in 2017.

In 2019, following a corruption scandal involving his deputy, Kurz's coalition government collapsed and he called for snap elections.

His People's Party (OVP) won the snap election and he was reinstated as the chancellor in August.

Kurz, who still holds the leadership of the OVP, will likely become the party's top lawmaker in parliament.

"This resignation is not a real resignation," said political expert Thomas Hofer. "It is a step back into the second row but the power in the OVP and therefore within the OVP government team still lies with Sebastian Kurz."

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