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(photo credit: AP [file])
The far-Right, ultra-nationalist British National Party (BNP) won its first two seats in the European Parliament's weekend elections as the ruling Labor Party slumped to third place.
BNP leader Nick Griffin and former National Front member Andrew Brons were elected to the European Parliament. Griffin was elected for the UK's North West district and Brons in the Yorkshire and Humber district, where he won 10 percent of the vote.
Right-leaning governments came out ahead in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Spain, while far-right parties that excoriated Muslims, immigrants and minorities gained strength in the Netherlands, Hungary and Austria.
Reeling from the expenses scandal in parliament, Prime Minister Gordon Brown finished behind the anti-European UK Independence Party - a crushing defeat that cast doubt on Brown's future, and that of his party in the next national elections.
Even though the all-white BNP, which is accused by its opponents of stirring racial hatred, polled fewer votes than it had in 2004, the slump in Labor's support meant its share of the vote went to other parties.
Labor saw its support drop from 19 seats in 2004 to 11, with just 15.3 percent of the vote - its worst post-war election result. It finished in third place behind the Conservatives (24 seats) and the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (13 seats). Britain has 72 seats in the parliament.
Speaking to an audience in Manchester, Griffin said: "It is a great moment for democracy. Labor has helped to turn this country into a crime-ridden slum with no industry left. It will be a huge change in British politics. The most demonized and lied-about party in British politics has made a massive breakthrough."
Griffin said the BNP was not racist, but gained votes from other parties because it "spoke openly about the problem of immigration."
Labor's deputy leader Harriet Harman described the result as "terrible."
"I think it's a terrible thing that we've now got representing Britain in the European Parliament a party that is a racist party, a party that doesn't believe black people should even be allowed to join this party. What extremist, far right, racist parties like the British National Party do is that they exploit people's fears and if people are worried about their future they turn inwards," Harman said.
The Conservatives said that mainstream parties needed to "rethink" how they countered the BNP's arguments.
Conservative leader David Cameron told party supporters, "It sickens me, as it should sicken everybody here, that the British National Party has succeeded in these European elections. It brings shame on us that these fascist, racist thugs have been elected to the European Parliament."
"All politicians should be asking themselves - how did we allow this to happen?" said the party's shadow defense secretary, Liam Fox.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews blamed the current economic climate and the MP expenses scandal for the BNP victory.
"The 'perfect storm' of the economic situation, the expenses furor, the lack of comprehensive local elections and limited interest in Europe created the ideal environment for the BNP to succeed in the European elections," it said in a statement.
The Board said it would continue with its campaign, in collaboration with other faith communities, trade unionists and politicians of all colors, "to unite against the fascist threat."
According to Searchlight, the British anti-fascist organization based in London, Brons was a member of the National Socialist Movement, founded on Hitler's birthday by Colin Jordan, the British Nazi leader who died in April.
NSM members were responsible for an arson campaign against Jewish property and synagogues in the 1960s which, according to Searchlight, was approved by Brons.
In 1984 Brons was convicted of behavior likely to cause a breach of the peace. He and another National Front member were heard shouting slogans such as "Death to Jews," "White Power" and "National Front" in Leeds.
Brons resigned as National Front chairman in 1984 and later faded from public view. He has been a BNP member for around four years.
Searchlight said the party is run by "hard-line Nazis" who believe that the Holocaust did not happen and is "entrenched in the principles of racial superiority and the banning of racial integration."
Speaking on BBC radio on Monday, Griffin said, "There's a huge amount of racism in this country, overwhelmingly it is directed towards the indigenous British majority, which is one reason we've done so well in these elections.
"The indigenous majority were the second-class citizens in every possible sphere, not as a consequence of the immigrants themselves, but because our ruling elite has made them second-class citizens," he continued.
"Labor, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, by leaving the door to Britain open, has forced people to turn to a party which speaks openly about the problem of immigration and says that while there might be a few good things about it there's also a lot of bad things."
Searchlight has initiated a petition to "help show what Britain thinks of the BNP," and said it would hand it to the European Parliament on the day Griffin and Brons take their seats.
The BNP also made gains in local elections, securing three county councillors - in Lancashire, Leicestershire and Hertfordshire.
The June 4-7 European Parliament elections across the 27-nation bloc saw only 43% of 375 million eligible voters cast ballots for representatives to the 736-seat EU legislature. The record low turnout pointed to enduring voter apathy about the European Union.
It was a discouraging sign for EU officials who are hoping Irish voters would approve stronger powers for the European Union in a fall referendum.
Voters angry over poor economic conditions and political scandals punished ruling parties of both stripes in Greece, Austria, Spain, Bulgaria, Ireland, Hungary and the tiny island of Malta.
European Commission President Manuel Barroso blamed politicians across the European Union.
"National politicians, whose debates all too often remain largely national in their focus, must acknowledge themselves more consistently as both national and European actors," he said.
The European Union said center-right parties were expected to take the most seats - 267. Center-left parties were headed for 159. Green and pro-EU parties captured 51 seats, while far-right and anti-EU parties won around 40 seats. The remainder went to smaller groups.
Voters in Italy handed a tepid win to scandal-plagued Premier Silvio Berlusconi and rewarded the anti-immigrant party in his coalition. The 72-year-old billionaire media mogul spent much of the campaign fighting off his wife's allegations of an improper relationship with an 18-year-old model.
Germans gave a lackluster victory to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives but a historic defeat to their center-left rivals, a result that comes only months before Germany holds its own national election.
"We are the force that is acting level-headedly and correctly in this financial and economic crisis," said Volker Kauder, the leader of Merkel's party in the German parliament.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives trounced the Socialists, while an ecology-minded party vaulted to a surprisingly strong third place.
"We will continue to modernize France," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said, vowing to loosen France's labor rules to make the country more competitive internationally.
Austria's big winner was the rightist Freedom Party, which more than doubled its strength over the 2004 elections to 13.1% of the vote. It campaigned on an anti-Islam platform.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic party took 17% of the country's votes, winning four of 25 seats.
Three of 22 seats in Hungary went to the far-right Jobbik party, which describes itself as Euro-skeptic and anti-immigration. Critics say the party is racist and anti-Semitic.
The EU Parliament has evolved over five decades from a consultative legislature to one with the power to vote on or amend two-thirds of all EU laws. Lawmakers get five-year terms and residents vote for lawmakers from their own countries.
AP contributed to this report.