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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Quebec separatists defeated
Quebec Liberal Party leader Jean Charest
The poll results mark a new era in Quebec politics
Elections in the French-speaking province of Quebec have been won by a party that wants to maintain ties to the rest of Canada.

The pro-Canada Liberal Party won a majority of the seats in the provincial assembly, comfortably ahead of its main rival, the Parti Quebecois, which, during its nine years in power, has campaigned for Quebec to become independent.

The leader of the Liberal Party and next premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, described his party's victory as a mandate for change.

Correspondents say the people of Quebec appear to want their leaders to concentrate on the economy and social issues, rather than the divisive question of independence.

Liberals: 76 seats
Parti Quebecois: 45 seats
Action Democratique: 4 seats

In 1995 the Parti Quebecois held a referendum on independence for Quebec, which it narrowly lost.

The Liberal Party won 76 seats in the 125-seat assembly, securing 45.9% of the vote, compared with 45 seats for Parti Quebecois, which garnered 33.2% .

The turnout among the province's 5.4 million eligible voters was 70%.

"Today, the people of Quebec have given the Liberal Party a mandate for change. We will be the government of all Quebecers, a government of respect, integrity and transparency," Mr Charest said.

Prime minister triumphant

Trailing badly in public opinions polls in the last week of the campaign, the Parti Quebecois' future hinged on a last-minute plea that voters keep alive hopes of nationhood for Canada's largest province.

In his concession speech, Quebec Premier Bernard Landry thanked his supporters for a hard-fought 33-day campaign.

"It is also a very pleasant duty for me to congratulate very warmly the leader of the Liberal Party for having conducted his troops to a very impressive victory, which was owed to them," Mr Landry said on Monday night.

"I know this is not exactly what you wanted to hear, but in the spirit of democracy, we should speak well of those who won."

The result is also a triumph for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, head of the federal Liberal Party, who has battled against Quebec's secession throughout his political career.

"It is for me an element of satisfaction," Mr Chretien, a Quebecer himself, told reporters in the Dominican Republic, where he is on a working vacation.

"It's a confirmation that the threat of separation has disappeared. This is very, very good for Canada."

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