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Blair to Step Down as Labour Party Leader; Hand Over Power June 27

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Thursday he is stepping down as leader of the Labour Party and will hand over power to a new prime minister June 27. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

Tony Blair chose the town of Sedgefield, the heart of his constituency in northeast England, to make his long-awaited announcement.

"Today, I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party," he said. "The party will now select a new leader. On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation from the office of prime minister to the Queen."

With these words, Mr. Blair began the transition of power. The Labour Party is expected to select current treasury chief, chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, as its new leader, paving the way for him to become prime minister on June 27.

Speaking to party members in Sedgefield, Mr. Blair said that after a decade in power it was time to go.

"I've been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years," he added. "In this job in the world of today, I think that's long enough for me, but more especially for the country."

Mr. Blair recounted some of his government's successes, including Britain's booming economy, improvements in health care, employment and social benefits. He also talked of foreign successes: intervention in the civil conflicts in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. He spoke of Britain's part in the fight against terrorism, in toppling the Taleban in Afghanistan and in ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq, although acknowledging Britain's involvement in Iraq remains a deeply controversial issue.

Mr. Blair admitted not everyone agrees with the decisions he made over the past 10 years.

"I did what I thought was right," he said. "I may have been wrong; that's your call. But, believe one thing if nothing else, I did what I thought was right for our country."

Mr. Blair acknowledged that not all expectations he had come into office with had been fulfilled. He said some people might say the expectations were too high, but he said he would not have wanted it any other way.