Austria's new chancellor resigns; predecessor quits politics

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg has announced he is stepping down just two months after taking over from predecessor Sebastian Kurz

BERLIN -- Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced Thursday he is stepping down just two months after taking over from predecessor Sebastian Kurz, who stumbled over corruption allegations.

“I'm of the firm opinion that the two posts - head of government and leader of the party with the most votes in Austria - need to be quickly united in a single hand,” Schallenberg said.

Schallenberg took office in October following Kurz's resignation as chancellor. Austrian prosecutors had announced that Kurz was one of the targets of an investigation into suspected bribery and breach of trust. The Greens, the junior coalition partners in Kurz's government, demanded his replacement.

Kurz and his close associates are accused of trying to secure his rise to the leadership of his party and the country with the help of manipulated polls and friendly media reports financed with public money. He became the leader of his Austrian People’s Party and then chancellor in 2017.

Kurz said Thursday that he had always done his best to “move our beautiful Austria a little bit in the right direction,” but acknowledged having made some mistakes during his 10-year career.

Still, Kurz insisted: “I’m neither a saint, nor a criminal.”

“I’m a human being with strengths and weaknesses,” he told reporters in Vienna, adding that he looked forward to defending himself against the corruption allegations in court.

After resigning as chancellor, Kurz became the Austrian People's Party's parliamentary leader. The position afforded him immunity from prosecution until it was lifted last month.

Kurz said the recent birth of his first child had prompted the decision to leave politics.

Austrian media reported that Interior Minister Karl Nehammer could replace Kurz as the head of the Austrian People’s Party and then also succeed Schallenberg as chancellor.