Austria minister, migrant hardliner, to step down: Reports

AFP , Saturday 9 Apr 2016

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the driving force behind the country's hardline stance on migrants, is to step down as part of a party reshuffle, Austrian media reported Saturday.

The 52-year-old, who belongs to the conservative OeVP party, will become acting governor of her home state of Lower Austria, while the incumbent Wolfgang Sobotka would take over as interior minister, the APA news agency reported.

It is not clear when the swap would take place, but the reshuffle was likely to be confirmed on Sunday at a meeting of the OeVP, which sits in the ruling coalition with the Social Democrats.

"It's no secret that the minister's heart pulls her back to Lower Austria," her spokesman Hermann Muhr told AFP but refused to comment further.

It would be the first role in national politics for 60-year-old Sobotka, a classically trained musician and father of six.

Mikl-Leitner, who took office in 2011, has been one of the key architects behind Austria's tough asylum-seeker policies, as Europe grapples with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

She has overseen the introduction of border fences, tougher border controls and hardline asylum rules -- including an annual cap on migrant numbers -- as part of her push to build "fortress Europe" and shut the main Balkan migrant trail for good.

With that route now closed, Mikl-Leitner recently turned her attention to the Italian border, threatening to shut the border checkpoint at the strategically important Brenner pass if Rome failed to stop illegal migrants.

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