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London set for first Muslim mayor as vote counting underway in British regional elections

Vote counting is underway after a series of regional elections across the UK. In London, Sadiq Khan is expected to make history as the city's first Muslim mayor. Preliminary results are expected by the end of the week.

Some 45 million people across Britain voted on Thursday in a series of regional elections that could potentially lead to a historic outcome.

Labour member Sadiq Khan (pictured above), a former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants,

looked set to win the mayorship of London

, making him the first Muslim mayor in the capital's history.

So far, Khan is leading his Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, with more than 40 percent of first preferences. London's results are expected late on Friday.

Cameron takes on Khan, Corbyn

Khan

has drawn fire over his religion

, with Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the Conservative party, accusing him of having ties with Islamic extremists.

Conservative Mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, leaves a polling station at Kitson Hall Copyright: Getty Images/C. Ratcliffe

Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative candidate for mayor of London

In a weekly session in parliament on Wednesday, Cameron said Khan and other Labour candidates "share platform after platform after platform with extremists and anti-Semites."

On Wednesday, Cameron repeatedly called on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to withdraw his remarks about terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, accusing the opposition leader of referring to those organizations as his "friends."

The votes in England and Wales are seen as a major test for the two parties. For Labour, which has not been in office nationally since 2010, Khan's potential victory could prove a rare bright spot - with the party set to lose ground in much of the country.

In Scotland, too, once-dominant Labour run the risk of being forced back into third place by a resurgent Conservative party. The Scottish National Party was well on course for a second consecutive majority in the Scottish Assembly.

"What we're seeing tonight is the SNP replacing Labour. The collapse in Labour support is quite staggering," SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who reclaimed her seat in Glasgow, told broadcasters.

Despite the significance of the elections - dubbed "Super Thursday" - voter turnout was low. Some analysts attributed that to the fact that Britons will also be voting on June 23 in the much-touted Brexit referendum, deciding whether or not their country should remain in the European Union.

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blc/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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