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Austrian president sworn in as government wobbles

Austria's president Alexander Van der Bellen (C) speaks during the swearing-in ceremony, as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (L), Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (2ndL) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (2ndR) listen during the federal assembly at the parliament in Vienna on January 26, 2017. Van der Bellen, 73, narrowly won a run-off against Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party (FPOe) in May but the anti-immigration party got the result annulled due to procedural irregularities. / AFP PHOTO / APA / ROLAND SCHLAGER / Austria OUT

Austria’s president Alexander Van der Bellen (C) speaks during the swearing-in ceremony, as Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (L), Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (2ndL) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (2ndR) listen during the federal assembly at the parliament in Vienna on January 26, 2017.<br />Van der Bellen, 73, narrowly won a run-off against Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party (FPOe) in May but the anti-immigration party got the result annulled due to procedural irregularities. / AFP PHOTO / APA / ROLAND SCHLAGER / Austria OUT

Alexander Van der Bellen, who beat the far-right candidate in a presidential election thriller last year, was sworn in on Thursday just as speculation raged about the future of the government.

Van der Bellen, 73, narrowly won a run-off against Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party (FPOe) in May, but the anti-immigration party got the result annulled due to procedural irregularities.

A re-run set for October had to be postponed because of faulty glue on postal votes and after an ugly and divisive campaign Van der Bellen finally won the largely ceremonial, but coveted presidency on December 4.

Hofer, 45, who like similar politicians in Europe — and Donald Trump in the United States — stoked concerns about immigration and security, would have been the first far-right president in the European Union.

The victory of the professorial Van der Bellen, who was backed by the ecologist Greens but ran as an independent, was greeted with relief by centrist parties in Austria and around Europe.

But the “grand coalition” of Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern, comprising his centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP), remains under severe pressure.

Speculation has been heightened that the coalition may throw in the towel and call early elections, as the FPOe has been topping national opinion polls and amid the public squabbling this week within the coalition that is due to rule until late 2018.

“I promise to follow faithfully the constitution and all laws of the republic and to fulfil my role to the best of my knowledge and conscience,” Van der Bellen said in a ceremony in parliament.

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