Far-right leader narrowly defeated in Austrian presidential election

Norbert Hofer beaten by former Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen

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Norbert Hofer, candidate for Austria's Presidency for Austria's Freedom Party. Image: Ronald Zak / AP/Press Association Images

Far-right leader Norbert Hofer has conceded defeat in Austria's presidential election to leftist rival Alexander van der Bellen.

The Freedom Party representative, a Eurosceptic who is against immigration, narrowly lost out to the independent 72-year-old candidate in the postal ballots.

In a statement on Facebook, Mr Hofer wrote: "Of course I am sad today. I would have liked to take care of our wonderful country for you as president.

"I will remain loyal to you and make my contribution for a positive future of Austria."

Although a largely ceremonial role, an Austrian president has important powers including the ability to dismiss their cabinet.

Earlier in the day, as the absentee votes began to be counted, Mr Hofer appeared confident of victory and told supporters: "We have definitely won."

On Sunday, after direct votes were counted, the result was too close to call - with the Freedom Party claiming a wafer-thin lead over Mr Van der Bellen, an economist who was formerly leader of the Green Party.

The FPÖ is currently the third largest party in the country's National Council, holding 40 of 183 seats. Its support has been boosted by the migration crisis, but Mr Hofer insists he is not fascist or racist - just a man who puts Austrians first.

The party previously formed a coalition government with the centre-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), with the two parties leading the country between 2000 and 2005. 

Mr Hofer's result in the presidential election marks perhaps the strongest showing yet for the right and far-right in modern Europe.

Parties such as the Danish People's Party and Sweden Democrats have made notable gains in recent years. The Finns Party is one of the three coalition parties in Finland's parliament. 

Marine Le Pen's far-right group the National Front gained more votes nationally than any other party in the first round of French regional elections, but failed to win any regions in the second round.