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Who will be king?

So, who won Britain's election? The only thing anyone could say with any certainty today is that we may have to wait days or even weeks for an answer.

Although the Tories have the largest number of seats, they are not on course for an overall majority -- and every major party is emphasising the losses of its rivals rather than celebrating success.

Gordon Brown returned to 10 Downing Street without any clear indication of whether he will be able to remain there as prime minister.

A spokesman said he aimed to get some rest and see his family after an inconclusive night's counting which appears to have produced the first hung parliament since 1974.

But his decision to go back through the famous front door to No 10 will be seen by some as an indication that he intends to seek a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to cling to power.

With the majority of votes counted, it seemed almost certain that the Conservatives will come out of the 2010 election as the largest single party, but without the 326 MPs they would need to secure an overall majority in the House of Commons.

As Mr Brown walked through the door of No 10 at 7am, ignoring questions from reporters over whether he would resign, the Conservatives had won 281 seats, with Labour on 227 and the Liberal Democrats on 48, with 67 seats still to declare.

Conservative leader David Cameron insisted Labour had "lost its mandate to govern our country", as his party raced ahead in terms of seats won in the new parliament.

The Conservatives were on target to gain more seats in this ballot than in any general election for 80 years, said Mr Cameron after winning his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire.

But Mr Brown insisted: "My duty in all of this is that there be a stable, strong and principled government and to play my part in making that possible.

"I think it is too early to say what the verdict of the people is but it is pretty clear that what the people will want at the end of this election is a government that is strong, stable and principled."

He told reporters travelling to London with him from his count in Kirkcaldy: "I am the leader of the Labour Party but I've also got a duty to the country."

He added: "The economy is incredibly important to our future and we must be sending out the right message to the world."

The Liberal Democrats had a disappointing night, with no sign of the so-called "Cleggmania" prompted by the TV debates being translated into votes or seats.

Deflated party leader Nick Clegg acknowledged: "We simply didn't achieve what we hoped."

Mr Clegg gave no indication of which party he would seek to talk to first in the wake of the inconclusive result, cautioning other leaders against "rushing into making claims or taking decisions" which did not stand the test of time.

He urged everyone involved to "take a little time" to ensure people got the government they deserved during these "difficult times".

Mr Brown was in talks with key lieutenants including Peter Mandelson, campaign co-ordinator Douglas Alexander and former Lib Dem Andrew Adonis at Labour HQ in London before returning to Number 10.

They will have been weighing up whether the likely results made a pact with Lib Dems -- possibly also involving deals with Welsh and Scottish nationalists, the SDLP and the UK's first Green MP, Caroline Lucas -- viable.

Latest projections suggested that Labour ranks at Westminster will be reduced to 259, with Lib Dems on 54, suggesting that the two parties together would have marginally more MPs than the Tories on 309, but not enough to form an outright majority without the support of the smaller parties.

Sources indicated Mr Brown was ready to embark on days of talks aimed at piecing together a coalition.

But Mr Cameron will pile on pressure for Mr Brown to concede defeat and clear the way for him to try to govern, either at the head of a minority administration or with the support of Northern Irish unionists and other parties.

"What's clear from these results is that the country, our country, wants change. That change is going to require new leadership and we will stand ready to do all we can to help bring that leadership," he said.

Mr Cameron, foreshadowing extensive wrangling over who would form an administration, promised to put the national interest first in the "hours ahead, or perhaps longer than the hours ahead".