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Center-right coalition captures a narrow win in Sweden

Promises changes in welfare model

STOCKHOLM -- A center-right opposition vowing to revamp Sweden's welfare state ousted the Social Democratic government in a close parliamentary election yesterday .

Prime Minister Goran Persson, a Social Democrat who had governed for 10 years, conceded defeat and said his government would resign after the party's worst election showing in decades.

With 99 percent of districts counted, the four-party opposition alliance led by Fredrik Reinfeldt had 48 percent of the votes, compared with 46.2 percent for the Social Democrats and their two allied parties. ``It was teamwork that helped us win," Reinfeldt said in a victory speech to jubilant supporters in downtown Stockholm.

Persson said Sweden's social model, a market economy blended with a high-tax welfare state, was at stake in the election. But the opposition led by Reinfeldt's Moderate Party insisted that it would not dismantle the system, but rather, help it survive by promoting jobs over welfare handouts.

The results showed Reinfeldt's Moderate Party with 26 percent, a strong gain from 2002 when it won only 15 percent of the vote. After taking over the party leadership in 2003, Reinfeldt, 41, has steered the party toward the center by toning down its conservative polices.

``We dared to challenge ourselves, we dared to admit our faults," Reinfeldt said. ``That renewal has not just begun; it will continue into the future."

Final official results were expected by Wednesday, but were unlikely to change the outcome.

The Social Democrats had 35.3 percent, which if confirmed would be the party's worst showing in parliamentary elections since 1914.

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