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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Dutch vote for Euro-friendly parties

(Photo: Minister-president)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling liberal party VVD emerged as the biggest party in Dutch parliamentary elections, results showed on Thursday, with many voters turning their back on right-wing populist Geert Wilders.

Rutte, whose party won 41 of the 150 seats, is expected to seek a coalition with the second-placed opposition Labour Party (PvdA).

A middle-ground coalition of the centre-right and centre-left is likely to support more rapid European Union integration, ending a phase where Rutte had to be careful not to lose the backing of the eurosceptic Wilders. His party's tally of seats nearly halved, from 24 to 15.

Wilders, who has attracted worldwide attention with his attacks on Islam, prompted the government's collapse in April when he withdrew the support of his anti-immigrant Freedom Party for Rutte's minority coalition. He conceded his party had suffered an "enormous loss."

Support for Labour and its leader, Diederik Samsom, surged, giving it nine extra seats for a total of 39.

At an election-night party, Labour supporter Huub Kappert, 26, voiced disappointment that his group had not overtaken Rutte, saying, "In the end, who is the biggest counts."

But a 27-year-old activist who gave only his first name, Bart, was relieved that centrist parties pulled back support from the fringes, saying, "The realistic middle took over again. I'm happy about it."

Both Rutte and Samsom favour government austerity, though with contrasting plans to cut state spending, and more EU powers to combat the eurozone's lingering sovereign debt crisis.

Wilders' party was not the only one to suffer a setback. The Christian Democrats, who were members of Rutte's coalition, won only 13 seats, eight fewer than in the 2010 polls. The opposition Green Left party lost seven of the 10 seats they previously held.

Speaking ahead of the election, both Rutte and PvdA leader Diederik Samsom had played down a possible coalition with one another, saying it was not their preferred option - but neither excluded the possibility.

The vote count is provisional, with the final result to be confirmed by the national election body in several days.

The Socialist Party, a eurosceptic opposition group, was stable with 15 parliamentarians elected. The reformist liberal democrat group D66 gained two seats, giving it a total of 12.

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