Reuters International

Austrian railways OeBB Chief Executive Christian Kern addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's ruling Social Democratic Party (SPO) fully backs rail boss Christian Kern to become the country's next chancellor, the party's acting leader said on Friday, effectively paving the way for Kern to lead the embattled coalition government.

Werner Faymann stepped down as chancellor on Monday, bowing to a party revolt that erupted after the SPO's candidate in Austria's presidential election crashed out in the first round, far behind the winner from the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO). A second round will be held on May 22.

Acting SPO leader Michael Haeupl gave brief answers to reporters' questions before a meeting of senior party officials in Vienna.

Asked if Kern, head of Austria's rail operator, would be sworn in as chancellor next week, he said: "Yes."

A party leadership meeting on Tuesday is expected to formally propose Kern as chancellor, after which he must be sworn in by President Heinz Fischer, who has already expressed his approval.

The SPO and its coalition partner, the conservative People's Party, have suffered a series of electoral losses in recent years. They must either work together in government until 2018 or face an early parliamentary election which the FPO would most likely win.

Kern, widely admired for his skills as a manager, faces a difficult task in keeping the coalition alive while rallying a party divided over how to reverse its electoral fortunes without abandoning its liberal principles.

When asked if the party was united behind Kern, Haeupl said: "Yes, you can assume that."

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; writing by Francois Murphy; editing by Toby Davis)

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