Austria's defence minister steps down

Austria's Defence Minister Norbert Darabos resigned on Tuesday to become secretary of the ruling coalition's biggest party, less than seven months before the country goes to the polls.

Darabos, of the Social Democrats (SPOe), will be replaced by 44-year-old lawmaker Gerald Klug, who has been heading the SPOe's parliamentary group.

Darabos, 48, in January suffered a major setback as Austrians voted to keep the neutral country's military conscription -- a widely debated tradition the minister and his party, led by Chancellor Werner Faymann, had wanted to get rid of.

The reshuffle comes two days after regional elections in Carinthia where the SPOe regained Austria's southernmost state -- a former far-right stronghold -- for the first time since 1999. In Lower Austria, it recorded its lowest result since 1945, however.

Two more regional elections will be held before the legislative elections on September 29.