A left-wing independent candidate has narrowly prevented Austria from becoming the first EU country to elect a far-right head of state, squeaking home by a tiny margin as the country’s new president after a knife-edge contest ended with his opponent conceding defeat.

Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old retired economics professor backed by the Austrian Green party, defeated his far-right opponent Norbert Hofer only after 700,000 postal ballots – about 10% of the available votes – were taken into account.

In a post on Facebook, Hofer wrote: “Dear friends, I thank you for your fantastic support. Of course today I am sad. I would have liked to have watched out for you as president of our wonderful country.”

The two rivals had finished neck and neck in Sunday’s elections, with Van der Bellen scoring 48.1% against the 51.9% collected by Hofer, from the Euro-sceptic, anti-immigrant Freedom party.

Austrian media reported that after postal votes were counted, Van der Bellen had 50.2% and Hofer 49.8% – a margin of just 0.4 percentage points. An official announcement from the interior ministry was expected later on Monday afternoon.

Many Austrian websites went down under the weight of traffic as the country waited for news of the final result.

Source: Far-right candidate narrowly defeated in Austrian presidential election | World news | The Guardian