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US Senator Resigns in Wake of Sex Scandal

A Republican senator has resigned just days after it was revealed he had been arrested in an airport for soliciting sex in a men's restroom. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports his resignation comes after fellow Republicans called on him to step down.

At a news conference in the Idaho state capitol of Boise, Senator Larry Craig said he would give up his senate seat at the end of this month, ending a career spanning 27 years in the Congress and Senate. "It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce my intention to resign from the Senate effective September 30," he said.

With his wife and two of his children by his side, Craig said he is leaving office because continuing to serve in the Senate as he pursues his legal options would be unfair to residents of his state. "These are serious times of war and of conflict, times that deserve the Senate's and the full nation's attention. There are many challenges facing Idaho that I am currently involved in and the people of Idaho deserve a senator who can devote a hundred percent of his time and his effort to the critical issues of our state and our nation," he said.

The senator, who was arrested by an undercover police officer in the men's bathroom of the Minneapolis, Minnesota airport, maintains he did nothing wrong.

But the police officer says Craig first looked at him through a crack in the bathroom stall door, then sat in the next stall and began to tap his foot in a way that signaled a desire to engage in what the officer called "lewd [sexual] conduct."

The married 62-year old senator later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, a move he now says was a mistake.

A long-time opponent of gay rights, Craig says he is not nor ever has been homosexual.

Leading Republicans have called for him to step down, hoping his resignation will put an end to a scandal that has embarrassed the party ahead of the 2008 elections.

Idaho is a strongly Republican state, and several prominent party members have been mentioned as possible replacements to fill out Craig's term until the elections. Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who attended Saturday's news conference, is expected to announce a replacement soon.

But Craig's resignation will offer Democrats an opportunity to grab one more seat in the Senate in 2008, possibly expanding their one-seat majority.