Austria leader coy on far-right ties

Austria's new chancellor Christian Kern signs the swearing-in documents as chancellor next to outgoing President Heinz FischerImage copyright

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Mr Kern(L) was sworn in by outgoing President Heinz Fischer on Tuesday

Austria’s new chancellor has refused to rule out co-operation with the country’s far-right Freedom Party.

However the Social Democrat (SPO) Christian Kern said he could not work with any groups that “incite against people and minorities”.

He was sworn in on Tuesday, replacing Werner Faymann who quit after losing the support of party colleagues.

The SPO were trounced in the first round of presidential elections last month by the Freedom Party.

The vote was won by the far-right party’s candidate Norbert Hofer, who faces a run-off against the Greens’ Alexander Van der Bellen for the mostly ceremonial role.

It was the first time since World War Two that candidates from Austria’s two main parties, the centre-left SPO and the centre-right People’s Party, did not make it to the run-off.

Mr Hofer has suggested that if elected he could use his power to dismiss the government of the day under certain circumstances.

At a news conference, Mr Kern said working with the Freedom Party was possible if certain criteria were met, without specifying what they might be.

He added: “My plan is not to lead the SPO into opposition, the opposite is true.

“But at the end of the day we need an identity and for us it is absolutely unimaginable to work with parties who incite against people and minorities.”

Swearing in Mr Kern at a ceremony in Vienna, outgoing President Heinz Fischer said: “You are taking on a great and beautiful but also difficult role with a lot of responsibilities.”

Austria’s new chancellor

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Austria’s new leader faces a challenging future

  • Aged 50, Mr Kern grew up in a working-class district of Vienna as the son of an electrician and a secretary
  • He joined the SPO while young, before moving to an energy firm and then on to Austria’s state rail firm OBB in 2010
  • While head of the OBB he drew praise last year helping move thousands of migrants from Hungary’s border into Germany
  • Now faces the challenge of keeping his party in power and halting the rise of the far right
  • He has a reputation for sharp-dressing and professionalism, but his stance on key policy areas remains unclear.

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