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Denmark's Liberal Party Wins Largest Faction in More Than 80 Years - 2001-11-21


The results from Denmark's general election are in, and Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and his Social Democrat-led government are out. Danish voters took a sharp turn to the right after a campaign dominated by a heated debate over immigration policy.

Denmark's Liberal Party celebrated Tuesday night when it became clear that its leader, 48-year-old Anders Fogh Rasmussen, would be the country's next prime minister. The Liberals and their right of center allies will have nearly 100 seats in the 179-seat parliament, more than enough to form a government.

It will be the first time that the Liberals have been the largest faction in Denmark's parliament in more than 80 years. That spells the end of Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's nine years in power.

The rightward shift comes at the conclusion of a campaign marked by a heated debate over immigration, spearheaded by the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party. And in this first Western European election since the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, the negative tone of the debate raised international concerns about the rise of xenophobic sentiments.

Among the parties registering big gains was the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, a six-year-old organization that will now be the third largest faction in parliament.

Mr. Fogh Rasmussen will be dependent on the Danish People's Party for support, but he made clear the anti-immigrant party will not be part of his ruling coalition. "The Danish People's Party," he said, "disagrees with us in many respects. So it's out of question that they could participate in the government."

Danish People's Party leader Pia Kjaersgaard says she's happy to stay outside the government, but will demand a say in the upcoming debate on tightening immigration policy. Ms. Kjaersgaard said, "We have said what we say now for many years, and we have big support from Danish population, and more and more people are concerned. Many schools have majority of immigrant children, and that's a problem."

Mr. Fogh Rasmussen has proposed several measures to tighten immigration controls, as well as strict limits on welfare benefits for new immigrants and the establishment of a separate ministry for integration and foreigners. But a tough debate on immigration policy is certainly ahead.

The outgoing Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who is not relation to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, conceded defeat shortly after the polls closed.

He told reporters he is looking ahead to other jobs, possibly in the international arena. "To be honest," he said, "I agree that I can see decisive moments before me. Before us, yes, I confess to you I feel very well educated to go into the next good jobs. The most important will be the Danish presidency of the European Union coming up next year."

Political analysts say the defeat is almost certain to spark a leadership battle within Denmark's Social Democratic Party.

This is the Social Democrats second big setback in northern Europe in two months. The Norwegian Social Democrats were trounced in general elections September 10, the day before the terror attacks in New York and Washington.

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