Updated at 4.05pm with Robert Abela's brief speech at HQ rally.

Labour’s triumph at the European Parliament elections was “a solid victory that acknowledges the government’s work” in the face of unprecedented international and local challenges in recent years, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday afternoon.

But, he admitted, the result also sends “a message” that the government will need to heed.

The prime minister speaking at the Naxxar counting centre.

“I will be responding to this message with more work, dedication, humility and a stronger finger on the pulse,” Abela said at the Naxxar counting centre.

"The result gives us renewed energy to work hard.  Starting from tomorrow morning, we will be working hard each and every day until the (general) election.”

‘Ironic’ to see PN celebrating defeat: Abela

Abela refused to be drawn into commenting on the sharp drop in Labour’s support, with insiders speculating that the party’s lead could have been slashed by as much as two-thirds.

“It is a bigger win than any ever won by PN,” Abela remarked, adding that it was “ironic” to see PN celebrating “a heavy defeat”.

With vote counting still underway, the PN is projecting that the gap from Labour will be as little as 15,000 votes, down from the 42,000 five years ago.

This would make it Labour’s narrowest margin of victory in the history of Malta’s European Parliament elections.

Appeals for 'respectful' celebrations

Abela appealed for Labour supporters to celebrate the result in a "respectful and dignified manner".

"The electoral campaign was marked by a spirit of absolute respect and this needs to be kept up, even towards those who hold a different political opinion" he said. 

"The spirit of national unity needs to remain dominant, he said."

Rally outside Labour headquarters

He later addressed a rally outside Labour HQ where he promised to respond  to the message sent by the electorate.

 “Others are celebrating a defeat. I am not here to celebrate a victory, but to tell you I shall be responding to your message with humility,” the prime minister said.

Abela said people clearly wanted a better version of Labour. "As from tomorrow, I will be rolling up my sleeves to deliver on this" he told the crowd.

The crowd outside Labour HQ.The crowd outside Labour HQ.

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