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Austrian far-right party expels former leader Strache

BERLIN (AP) — Austria's far-right Freedom Party on Friday expelled Heinz-Christian Strache, its longtime leader and the country's former vice chancellor, months after a scandal that ended the party's time in government.

The party said its local leadership in Vienna decided unanimously to throw out Strache, the Austria Press Agency reported. Local party chairman Dominik Nepp said Strache was removed for “behavior damaging to the party.”

Strache was Austria's vice chancellor until May, when he became embroiled in a scandal that brought down the government. A video showing him offering favors to a purported Russian investor prompted conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to pull the plug on his coalition with the Freedom Party.

Strache, 50, later also came under fire for the alleged billing of private expenses to his party. In an election in September, the party finished third with around 16.2% of the vote, 10 percentage points fewer than in Austria's 2017 election, as many supporters either switched to Kurz's center-right People's Party or stayed home.

Strache denied any wrongdoing but announced in early October that he was getting out of politics to protect his family and prevent splits in the party. His party suspended him the same day. Strache's successor as party leader, Norbert Hofer, described his expulsion Friday as “a relief to us” and said it allows the Freedom Party to look to the future.

Strache's wife, Philippa, was kicked out of the party in October after she accepted a seat won in the election. She now sits as an independent lawmaker in parliament. A non-partisan interim government under Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein is currently running Austria. Kurz is in negotiations with the environmentalist Green party to form a new governing coalition.

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