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Ireland's Ruling Party Selects New Chief to Replace Ahern

Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail party has selected Finance Minister Brian Cowen as party leader to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

Cowen's first major task will be leading a government campaign for a "yes" vote in a June referendum on a new European Union treaty.

Cowen told reporters in Dublin Wednesday that the treaty is very important for Ireland and he said he believes people will support it. He said the European Union is critical for the future economic, social and political well-being of the country.

Cowen is also his party's choice to become prime minister when Mr. Ahern steps down May 6. Mr. Ahern announced last week he is resigning amid an investigation into alleged financial irregularities, which he denies.

Mr. Ahern said he had done nothing wrong, but did not want the allegations to become a distraction for his government.

An anti-corruption panel has been investigating the Irish leader regarding large cash payments made to him in the 1990s.

Mr. Ahern has admitted accepting tens of thousands of dollars from friends and acquaintances in the early 1990s, when he was Irish finance minister. He maintains the money was to help him financially after his marriage ended. He denies the payments were improper.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.