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Denmark's center-left calls early election

Denmark goes to the polls on June 18 in a general election called early by Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Her center-left coalition lags in surveys behind the opposition Liberals and their anti-immigrant allies.

Thorning-Schmidt defied pundits on Wednesday by calling Denmark's election four months early than required by pointing to economic growth and her coalition government's recent pledge to boost welfare spending.

Pollsters anticipate that the center-right Liberals led by Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who want more curbs on immigration and state spending, could win June's election, backed by the eurosceptic Danish People's Party (DPP).

The anti-immigrant DDP scored upset gains in last year's elections for the European Parliament.

'Right time,' says premier

The premier had had until September to call the vote, but on Wednesday said it was the "right time to ask Danes whether we should keep the course or if we want experiments by the [opposition]."

Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark's first female prime in 2011 as head of a Social Democrat-led coalition supported by the smaller left-leaning parties. That was in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.

At a news conference Wednesday, she said Denmark was "hit harder b the crisis than many other countries because the good times had been used badly."

Denmark had been led out of that crisis with its "solidarity and order intact, " she asserted. Her previous moves had included unpopular cuts in unemployment benefits and a part sale of an energy utility to a US investor bank.

Spending package

On Tuesday, her government announced a 39 billion Danish crown (5.2 billion euros) spending package and sharpened its tone on immigrants by cutting benefits to those who fail to find jobs within a month.

A survey released by the news agency Ritzau on Monday showed Rasmussen's opposition grouping ahead on 54.3 percent compared to the governing coalition on 45.6 percent.

Support for the DPP has coincided with rising numbers of asylum seekers, especially from Syria, and fears of cheap labor from eastern Europe.

ipj/jil (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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