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Denmark PM Thorning-Schmidt concedes defeat in parliamentary election

Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has conceded defeat. Opposition Liberal leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen has offered to form a coalition after an election dominated by immigration and asylum issues.

Voters backed the opposition centre-right in a parliamentary election on Thursday. Support for an anti-immigration party lifted the opposition right-wing bloc to victory.

Denmark's first female Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt conceded defeat and quit as head of her Social Democrat Party.

"Tomorrow I will go to the Queen and tell her that the government is stepping down. Now it is up to Lars Lokke Rasmussen to try to form a government," she said late on Thursday, referring to the leader of the main right-wing party Venstre.

"We did not win the election, and we were beaten at the finish line," she told supporters. Thorning-Schmidt has been in power since 2011.

"Leadership is to step down at the right time. And that time is now," she added. Thorning-Schmidt is married to Stephen Kinnock, a British Labour MP.

After Thorning-Schmidt conceded, right-wing opposition bloc leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen said early Friday morning that his Liberal party and other center-right groups had an opportunity to form a new government. Rasmussen governed from 2009 to 2011.

"Tonight we have been given an opportunity, but only an opportunity, to take leadership in Denmark," Rasmussen told supporters in parliament. "We take that upon ourselves and I take that upon myself."

Rasmussen told supporters that people in Denmark could create strong results by working together. "What I offer today is to put myself at the head of a government who facilitates that cooperation," he said.

Anti-immigration

Denmark's anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP) became the second largest party with more than 21 percent of the vote. The right-wing bloc secured 90 seats in the 179-seat legislature compared to 85 for Thorning-Schmidt's center-left bloc.

"We are not afraid of being in government if that position gives us the greatest political influence," DPP leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said.

The DPP had campaigned on tighter immigration rules, higher pensions for low-income earners and more money for healthcare and the elderly.

Immigration and the rising cost of asylum seekers were major campaign issues for both right and left, along with the economy and the future of Denmark's cradle-to-grave welfare state.

Rasmussen has said he would cut back the number of asylum seekers by reducing benefits for new immigrants and by making it harder to obtain permanent residency in Denmark.

jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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