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Left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader in UK

Ben Stansall, AFP | Jeremy Corbyn stands on stage after being declared the new leader of Britain's opposition Labour party in London on September 12, 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn surged to a stunning victory on Saturday to win the leadership of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, in a triumph that reflected broader anti-austerity winds sweeping Europe.

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The socialist leader, whose odds of winning were 100/1 just four months ago, swept to victory in the first round of the contest with 251,417 votes or 59.5 percent of the ballots cast.

Cheers and applause erupted in Westminster Hall in London at the announcement, with his delighted supporters chanting, "Jez we did!"

Corbyn thanked everyone who took part in "this huge democratic exercise" which he says has shown Labour to be "passionate, democratic, diverse, united and determined in our quest for a decent and better society", according to the BBC.

Anti austerity

The newly-elected leader also condemned the UK’s "grotesque levels of inequality" and "unfair welfare system" in his victory speech to party members in the UK capital. Corbyn a proponent of higher taxes and more public spending, is steadfastly opposed to the austerity programme of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

The veteran campaigner, 66, called for Britain's Conservative government to show more "compassion" in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis and said he would attend a demonstration planned in London later on Saturday.

The Labour Party veteran has been compared to America’s Bernie Sanders, who’s creeping up the polls in the US, and whose leftwing politics has drawn parallels to Greece’s Syriza party or Spain’s Podemos party.

The unassuming, bearded vegetarian crammed in 99 campaign appearances, eschewing soundbites and usually wearing sandals and carrying a cup of tea.

“Great news re Jeremy Corbyn. Hopefully British Politics can be what it should be for a change. A voice for the left, the poor and victimised,” one supporter, Chris Curtis, wrote on his Twitter page, once the election results were announced.

Critics, however, question Corbyn’s ability to unify the Labour Party, which has been torn by infighting and was pummeled in the general election in May in a defeat that some critics blamed on the party’s more leftist turn in recent years.

Underscoring this division, Labour MP Jamie Reed marked Corbyn’svictory by promptly resigning as shadow health minister on Twitter. The move was rather pointed as the election of a new leader means that all frontbench posts are now effectively up for grabs.

Party faces “annihilation,” says Blair

Eunice Goes, author of a forthcoming book about Labour's previous leader Ed Miliband, said Corbyn would be "torn apart by his parliamentary party and the media".

Tony Blair, who led Labour to three consecutive election victories, said his party faced "annihilation" under Corbyn.

Despite the strong opposition, Corbyn surged ahead of the other more centrist candidates in the race -- Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall – who all struggled to build momentum despite having far stronger support from Labour MPs.

"Corbyn's current popularity has little to do with his own charisma," Andrew Harrop of left-wing think-tank the Fabian Society told AFP.

"He has triumphed because he represents a rejection of conventional politics and also because Labour's mainstream candidates failed to inspire excitement or hope."

Corbyn’s support ranges from students and first-time voters to older people disillusioned with Labour and trade unions.

On the subject of the EU membership referendum slated for 2017, Corbyn has said: "We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe."

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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