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Austrian Leader Calls For New Elections Amid 'Russian-Linked' Video Scandal


Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) after the resignation of his vice chancellor and coalition partner, Heinz-Christian Strache (left).

Austria's chancellor has called for new elections amid a political scandal involving a secret video that showed his vice chancellor offering contracts to a potential Russian benefactor in exchange for political donations.

As thousands of protesters gathered in Vienna on May 18, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for snap elections as soon as possible.

"Enough is enough," Kurz said in a statement to the media.

"I have suggested to the president of the republic that new elections be carried out, at the earliest possible date," he said.

The decision came hours after the vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, announced his resignation from the government.

Strache is with the far-right Freedom Party, which has been in a coalition with Kurz's Austrian People's Party.

In addition to an anti-immigration agenda and links to far-right extremists, the Freedom Party has been dogged by suspicions of cozying up to Russian interests.

In 2016, Strache traveled to Moscow to sign a cooperation agreement between the Freedom Party and the Kremlin-backed political party, United Russia.

And Austria’s foreign minister, also a Freedom Party member, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend her wedding last August.

The video, published on May 17 by Der Spiegel magazine and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, reportedly shows Strache offering infrastructure contracts to a woman posing as a wealthy potential donor from Russia.

In the video, the woman speaks Russian and identifies herself as the niece of a wealthy Russian businessman.

Another Freedom Party official is shown translating from German into Russian.

The encounter took place on the Spanish island of Ibiza in July 2017, three months before the election that brought Strache's Freedom Party to power and made him vice chancellor.

In announcing his resignation, Strache apologized for the video, but confirmed its authenticity.

"It was dumb, it was irresponsible,and it was a mistake," Strache said, saying also that he did not break any laws.

It wasn't clear who or how the video was recorded, nor was it immediately clear who the woman was.

Opposition parties have repeatedly called on Kurz to dissolve his coalition with the Freedom Party.

With reporting by dpa, AP, AFP and Reuters
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