Christian Kern .jpg
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern
Photograph: EPA/HELMUT FOHRINGER

Austria's reshuffled cabinet wants to offer a strong alternative to xenophobic and populist political messages, new Chancellor Christian Kern said Thursday in his first address to parliament since he took office.

"We don't want to cede minds and hearts to cheap populism," the Social Democratic leader said.

Kern was sworn in this week after his predecessor Werner Faymann stepped down in the face of growing public support for the far-right Freedom Party and weak economic growth.

"We have to counter incitement against minorities with a programme of our own," Kern told the assembled legislators.

Faymann had initially followed Germany's open-border policy as the refugee inflow reached its peak last year, but he and his cabinet shifted to increasingly restrictive immigration policies over the past months.

Kern did not propose to revoke these policies, but rather to put a new focus on lowering the jobless rate, boosting investment and dealing with the decline in real wages.

"We want to nourish hope, not people's worries and anxieties," Kern said.

His speech came three days before the final round of presidential elections, in which Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer is seen as the favourite over his Green rival Alexander Van der Bellen.

Kern, 50, left his job as chief executive of state-owned Austrian Federal Railways to become chancellor. He is set to take over the leadership of the Social Democats at a party congress in June.

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