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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 13:13 GMT
PM Howard concedes Australia poll
Kevin Rudd celebrates victory with his wife, 24/11
Mr Rudd praised Mr Howard's dignity in defeat

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has admitted defeat in the country's general election, and looks set to lose his parliamentary seat.

Mr Howard said he had telephoned Labor leader Kevin Rudd "to congratulate him on an emphatic victory".

Mr Rudd said the country had "looked to the future" and he pledged to be a prime minister "for all Australians".

With 70% of votes counted, Labor were on course to win the 76 seats needed to form a government.

More than 20 constituencies from a total of 150 are still to produce a result, but Labor already has 72 seats compared with 48 for Mr Howard's Liberal-National coalition.

Rare fate

Amid cheers from Liberal Party faithful, Mr Howard said it had been a privilege to have served as prime minister since 1996.

More than 13.5m of Australia's roughly 21m people are registered to vote
Electors will choose candidates for all 150 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 40 of the 76 seats in the upper house, the Senate
PM John Howard has led the conservative Liberal-National party coalition to four election wins since 1996 and is seeking a final term
Kevin Rudd is taking the centre-left Labor Party to the polls for the first time as leader
Election issues are the economy, environment and war in Iraq

"We've bequeathed to [Mr Rudd] a nation that is stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was 11 and a half years ago," he said.

Mr Howard, who had been bidding for a fifth term in office, conceded the national election and accepted it was "very likely" he would also be defeated in his Bennelong constituency.

If unseated, the 68-year-old would be only the second prime minister in Australia's history to suffer such a fate.

Voters in Bennelong had elected Mr Howard in 13 consecutive elections over 33 years.

But with more than 50% of the votes counted in the constituency, figures from the electoral commission suggested he had lost the seat to Maxine McKew, a former TV journalist.

An exit poll conducted by Sky News and Channel 7 suggested a similar result.

Anti-government backlash

Labor leader Mr Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat, had led in opinion polls throughout the election campaign.

In his victory speech, he thanked Mr Howard for his "dignity" in defeat and for his "extensive contribution to public service".

He promised to "forge a new consensus" by ending the "old battles of the past" between business and unions, and between economic growth and environmental concerns.

After too many years I can finally hold my head up and be proud to call myself Australian again
Anne, Brisbane

During the campaign, Labor sought to capitalise on the Howard administration's refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Mr Howard campaigned on his record of sound economic management.

The BBC's Nick Bryant, in Sydney, said Labor had swept back into power by harnessing an anti-government backlash.

Mr Howard had found himself on the wrong side of public opinion on the Kyoto protocol and the war in Iraq, our correspondent said. Many people also seemed to be simply tired of Mr Howard after 11 years of his rule.

Participating in elections is compulsory under Australian law and more than 13.5 million people were expected to vote.

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