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Conservatives enjoy strong lead in UK vote surprise: exit poll
[LONDON] Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives have won the largest number of seats in Britain's election but fallen short of an outright majority, exit polls indicated on Thursday, defying predictions of a neck-and-neck race with Labour.
The centre-right Conservatives were projected to win 316 seats compared to 239 for Ed Miliband's centre-left Labour party, in a possible victory that could put Britain on a collision course with the EU.
The poll issued by Britain's main broadcasters as ballot boxes closed also said that the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) had taken 58 out of 59 seats north of the border, which would be a massive surge in support from the six seats they held in the last parliament.
The Liberal Democrats, junior partners in Cameron's coalition government, slumped to 10 seats from 56 currently, according to the poll.
While the Conservatives may not have the clear majority of 326 seats in the House of Commons, they look to have increased their support from 302 in the outgoing parliament.
"If they are right, it will mean the Conservatives have clearly won," Michael Gove, a key ally of Cameron and chief whip in his government, told the BBC.
But Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said the results indicated that the Conservatives "have lost the majority for their coalition" with the Liberal Democrats.
Negotiations between the Conservatives, Labour and the smaller parties are expected to start on Friday as they bid to build enough support to reach a majority.
The outcome of the general election could determine Britain's future in the European Union and whether Scotland remains part of Britain.
Mr Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if he wins, while the SNP has said it would work with Labour in return for policy concessions.
Scots voted against independence in a referendum last year but the SNP has seen its support surge since and has not ruled out pushing for a fresh referendum.
Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Twitter the exit polls should be treated with "HUGE caution". She added: "I'm hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!" More than 45 million Britons were eligible to vote at polling stations located everywhere from shipping containers to churches, funeral parlours to pubs, a school bus, a lido and a football ground.
Ballot boxes were open from 0600 GMT to 2100 GMT. Most results will emerge overnight but the final tally of seats will not become clear until Friday afternoon.