VIENNA (Reuters) - Opposition leader Christian Kern said on Saturday he would leave politics and not run as the top candidate for the Austrian Social Democrats in European parliamentary elections next year, giving in to pressure from party critics.

Just a few weeks after announcing his intention to run in the elections, the 52-year-old former chancellor blamed internal party disputes for his decision, saying he would be unable to focus on European politics.

"As a former head of government, it is not possible to leave the domestic political stage," Kern said at a last-minute news conference in Vienna. "For me, this is the end as a professional politician."

Since losing power last year, the Social Democrats have been preoccupied with internal struggles and have failed to benefit from unpopular reforms - including longer working hours - introduced under the far right coalition led by Sebastian Kurz.

Kern said he wanted to give new party chief Pamela Rendi-Wagner the chance to build up a strong opposition without him as a "permanent shadow".

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Ros Russell)

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