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Lib Dems claim by-election victory
Liberal Democrats have claimed victory in the Eastleigh by-election as a late surge by the UK Independence Party threatened to cause David Cameron a big political headache.
Votes are still being counted in the seat vacated by ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne when he resigned in disgrace after admitting perverting the course of justice.
Lib Dems have said they are already certain of retaining the Hampshire seat in the first head-to-head contest with the Conservatives since they joined them in the coalition Government.
The Liberal Democrat candidate - local councillor Mike Thornton - said he was "absolutely exhilarated" as he arrived at the count to supporters chanting: "We like Mike, we like Mike," and a media scrum.
"We think we have won. Let's let our wonderful counters do their job," he said.
Deputy leader Simon Hughes said the party was on course to win by a majority of 2,500-3,000.
Ukip said it looked set to take second place - with candidate Diane James claimed it had caused a "seismic shift" in British politics.
"It looks, to all intents and purposes as though the Conservatives are in third position; it is going to be a very close call between ourselves and the Liberal Democrats," she said.
Turnout was 52.8% - high for a by-election and a reflection of the massive attention given to the contest which has seen Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Mr Cameron make several personal appearances on the campaign trail.
Defeat in one of the target seats considered crucial to securing an overall majority at the next general election would itself have increased backbench pressure on the Prime Minister.