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Austrian Chancellor Faymann steps down after party revolt

Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann arrives for a news conference in Vienna, Austria, May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann on Monday stepped down as leader of the centrist coalition government and as head of his Social Democratic Party (SPO), two weeks after the SPO suffered a disastrous result in presidential elections.

Faymann, chancellor since 2008, had been under pressure from some in his party over his tough asylum policy and from others for wanting to keep a ban on forming coalitions with the anti-immigration and eurosceptic Freedom Party (FPO), which is leading opinion polls.

“To have a majority (in the party) is not enough,” a spokeswoman for Faymann quoted him as saying at a hastily convened news conference. A Reuters photographer at the event said Faymann had announced he was stepping down.

The SPO, which rules neutral Austria in a coalition with the centre-right People’s Party (OVP), suffered a major defeat last month in first-round voting for the next president when both parties scraped together just 23 percent.

The candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), running on an anti-Islam and eurosceptic platform, won more than a third of the votes, sending him into a run-off for the largely ceremonial role with a former Green Party leader on May 22.

The FPO regularly attracts more than 30 percent in opinion polls, well ahead of the two ruling parties that have dominated postwar politics. The next parliamentary elections are due to be held by 2018.

The spokeswoman for Faymann, 56, said she did not know what would happen to the coalition government. A spokesman for the head of the People’s Party, Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, was not immediately available for comment.

Austria got around 90,000 asylum requests in 2015 after large numbers of migrants and refugees, many fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in the staunchly Roman Catholic country of 8.5 million people.

Reporting by Leonhard Foeger, Francois Murphy and Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Michael Shields