Austria: Interim ministers sworn in after video scandal

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, attend an inauguration ceremony at Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for an early election after the resignation of his vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the Freedom Party spelled an end to his governing coalition. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s president on Wednesday swore in new, technocratic ministers to replace politicians from the far-right Freedom Party who left the government following a scandal surrounding its leader.

With his government rocking, it remains unclear whether Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will survive a no-confidence vote next week.

Austria faces early elections in September after the conservative Kurz’s coalition with the Freedom Party collapsed. Heinz-Christian Strache quit as vice chancellor and party leader after a video leaked to two German publications showed him appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor during a boozy meeting on the Spanish island of Ibiza two years ago.

President Alexander Van der Bellen urged the interim ministers to contribute to Austria taking “a constructive role” in the European Union at a crucial time for the 28-nation bloc.

The newcomers include Interior Minister Eckart Ratz, who formerly headed one of Austria’s top courts; Defense Minister Johann Luif, a military officer; and Infrastructure Minister Valerie Hackl, the head of Austria’s air traffic control agency.

Parliament is to vote Monday on a small opposition party’s no-confidence motion against Kurz, which would succeed if both the center-left Social Democrats and the Freedom Party — the second- and third-biggest parties — support it. Their stance isn’t yet clear, and Kurz said he has been holding talks with other parties.

“With the swearing-in of an interim government, there is the possibility of conducting the affairs of state calmly and in an orderly way until election day,” Kurz said before the new Cabinet met.

And in a swipe at the Freedom Party, he said “it is important to do everything so that a crisis of one party doesn’t turn into a crisis of the state.”

Kurz said Ratz, the interim interior minister, will have an important role in mopping up the mess created by the Strache scandal — “to do everything to ensure full clarification, as far as the contents of the video are concerned but also regarding the source of the video.”

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