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New Zealand re-elects Clark

New Zealanders gave Prime Minister Helen Clark a historic second term Saturday after she called early elections to capitalize on a strong economy that pulled the country through the global slump largely untouched.

"I am confident that tonight's result delivers New Zealand another stable, progressive government and we need that in today's uncertain world," Clark told cheering supporters in her northern stronghold of Auckland.

Draped in flower necklaces, Clark said she will try to form a minority coalition government with the left-leaning Progressive Coalition, among others.

With 100 percent of the vote counted, Labor had 52 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, up three from the last election. The Progressive Coalition was expected to win just two seats.

Clark, a 52-year-old former political science university lecturer, is the first New Zealand woman to win back-to-back elections.

The opposition center-right National Party also made history _ slumping to its worst result ever by dropping 12 seats to hold just 27. Leader Bill English vowed to stay in the job to rebuild his devastated party, after it secured just 21 percent of the nationwide vote, down more than nine percent on its share at the 1999 election.

Clark had hoped to win enough seats to form a majority and rule alone, but will seek support of the Green Party to ensure her minority government can remain in power for the three-year term.

However, the Greens have said they will withdraw their support from a Labor-led administration in October 2003 when a ban on the use of genetically modified plants and livestock expires. The Greens, who won eight seats, want a permanent ban.

If and when the Greens withdrew their support, Clark said she would expect support from the center-right United Future, which won nine seats.

With all votes counted, Labor had 41 percent, or 52 seats; the National Party had 21 percent, or 27 seats; the right-wing New Zealand First party had 11 percent for 13 seats; United Future had seven percent for nine seats; and the Green Party had six percent for eight seats. The rightist ACT party had seven percent for nine seats, and the Progressive Coalition was forecast to win two seats.