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Norway's Labour loses regional vote after a century on top

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's governing Labour Party fell to second place behind the Conservatives in Monday's regional and municipal election, a preliminary count showed, the first time since 1924 that the leftwing group failed to finish first in a nationwide vote.

With 60% of ballots counted, Labour had won 21.8% of the vote, official data showed, down from 24.8% in 2019, while the Conservative Party stood at 25.8%, up from 20.1% four years ago.

While the setback deepens Labour's woes, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere has said he will continue to lead his minority coalition government regardless of the regional vote's outcome, which does not affect the composition of parliament.

Soaring consumer prices, including a 9% rise in the cost of food in the last 12 months, accompanied by a jump in interest rates, have weighed on households and led the government to restrain public spending for fear of accelerating inflation.

Labour and the rural-oriented Centre Party, in government since 2021 following a landslide for leftwing parties, next face an election for parliament in 2025.

If the 2025 election were to show a similar outcome, the centre-left block would lose its majority, positioning Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg, who ruled Norway from 2013 to 2021, for a comeback.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche)