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Danish prime minister resigns

Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Sweeping victory: Anders Fogh Rasmussen  

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Denmark's long-standing Social Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen has handed in his resignation to Queen Margrethe after suffering a drubbing at the polls.

Liberal leader Anders Fogh Rasmussen led the centre-right to a landslide win in Tuesday's general election -- largely on the issue of immigration -- in a bitter contest.

He is expected to be asked by the Queen to form a new government later on Wednesday. Fogh Rasmussen, 48, said his first acts would be to tighten immigration laws, cap taxes and improve welfare provision.

The former taxation and economic affairs minister had campaigned under the slogan "Time For Change" and his victory is seen as a marked shift to the right.

With 98.9 percent of the vote counted, the Liberal Party and its allies, including the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, had 98 seats in the 179-seat parliament, well above the 90 needed for a majority.

Profile: Anders Fogh Rasmussen 

The ruling and once deemed electorally invincible Social Democrats and their parliamentary supporters won just 77 seats. In the last election in 1998, Nyrup Rasmussen had an 88-87 majority.

Fogh Rasmussen's Liberals won 31.2 percent of the vote, up from 24.0 in 1998 and replacing the Social Democrats as Denmark's biggest party for the first time in 80 years. The Social Democrats won 29.3 percent, down from 35.9.

Nyrup Rasmussen, in office since 1993 and the EU's longest serving PM, made a tearful concession of defeat on Tuesday night. He will remain head of a caretaker government until his namesake takes charge. The two Rasmussens are not related.

Fogh Rasmussen is expected to form a coalition with the Conservatives and perhaps the small centrist Christian People's Party.

But the final form of a new government, which could take several days to assemble, could depend on the nationalist, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, led by Pia Kjaersgaard, 54, which was the second big winner after the Liberals.

Nyrup Rasmussen
Nyrup Rasmussen's gamble on a snap election backfired  

Fogh Rasmussen told a TV interviewer of his plans for the first 100 days of office: "We want to reform hospitals, ensure better care of the elderly, increase maternity leave to one year... tighten policy regarding foreigners and, from day one, put a lid on taxes."

His calls for stricter limits on asylum seekers and refugees, seen as "spongers" by right-wingers, became the biggest campaign issue in a nation where the main parties showed little difference on economic policy. Both pledged to keep unemployment at its 25-year low.

The defeat was a major rebuff to Nyrup Rasmussen, 58, who called the snap election in a gamble that voters would unite behind his nine-year leadership after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Denmark is the second Scandinavian nation after Norway to oust ditch a Social Democratic government this year in favour of the centre-right. Norway's Labour Party, blamed for failing to update a cradle-to-grave welfare state, lost a September election.

In Sweden, Social Democratic Prime Minister Goran Persson faces an election in September 2002. His party won just 36.6 percent of the vote at the last elections in 1998, the party's worst result since 1920.

Turnout on Tuesday was 89.3 percent, a near record.


• Danish Government

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