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Finnish opposition Center Party leader declares victory in parliamentary election

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HELSINKI — Juha Sipila declared his opposition Center Party the winner of Finland's parliamentary election Sunday and will become the country's new prime minister at the head of a coalition government.

Sipila, a self-effacing millionaire businessman who entered politics four years ago, told jubilant voters at the party headquarters that "it looks like we've won the election."

Conservative Prime Minister Alexander Stubb conceded defeat.

"It's a fact that the Center Party has won the election," Stubb said. "Now we have to focus ... on how to get Finland back on track to growth."

Campaigning was dominated by economic issues in the midst of a three-year recession, with arguments over unemployment, benefit cuts and the rising national debt.

PHOTO: Finnish Prime Minister and leader of National Coalition Party Alexander Stubb casts his vote in Espoo, Finland on Sunday April 19, 2015. Finns are voting in parliamentary elections that will determine which coalition of parties can lead the country out of a three-year recession. (Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT, NO SALES
Finnish Prime Minister and leader of National Coalition Party Alexander Stubb casts his vote in Espoo, Finland on Sunday April 19, 2015. Finns are voting in parliamentary elections that will determine which coalition of parties can lead the country out of a three-year recession. (Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT, NO SALES

Stubb has advocated spending cuts of 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) over the next four years but Sipila has strongly opposed the measure, saying half the amount would suffice.

With 96 percent of votes counted, the centrists had 49 seats in the 200-member Parliament — an increase of 14 from the previous election four years ago.

The populist, anti-immigration Finns Party, which shook Finnish politics with massive gains four years ago and advocates the ouster of Greece from the euro, was second with 38 seats — one less than in 2011.

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb's conservative National Coalition party had 37 seats, down seven seats, followed by its main coalition partner, the Social Democrats with 34 seats — eight less than in the previous election.

Sipila said he would talk to the leaders of the three other leading parties on Monday, adding that the political program of government coalition parties was more important than their election result.

"Trust between the upcoming government parties is the most important factor," Sipila said but would not elaborate on possible partners.

More than 2,000 candidates had vied for seats in the 200-member Parliament.

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PHOTO: Finnish Prime Minister and leader of National Coalition Party Alexander Stubb casts his vote in Espoo, Finland on Sunday April 19, 2015. Finns are voting in parliamentary elections that will determine which coalition of parties can lead the country out of a three-year recession. (Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT, NO SALES
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