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British Conservatives Oust Party Leader

Britain's opposition Conservative Party has ousted its leader, widely blamed for having led an ineffective challenge against Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The political party that once put Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher into power is now in search of its fourth leader in six years.

Members of parliament from the Conservative Party, also known as the Tories, voted 75-90 late Wednesday to remove Iain Duncan Smith as party leader.

A few minutes later, Mr. Duncan Smith made a statement accepting the result, pointedly pledging his loyalty to whoever replaces him.

"The parliamentary party has spoken," said Mr. Duncan Smith. "The announcement has been made and I will stand down as leader when a successor has finally been chosen. I will give that leader my absolute loyalty and support, whoever it is. I will not publicly choose, however, between the candidates in this forthcoming election."

Nominations are open until November 6 for a replacement. The first ballot of Conservative lawmakers will be on November 11. Once the field is narrowed to two candidates, rank and file party members will choose the new leader. The whole process could take several weeks.

Among the early favorites to take over as Tory leader is Michael Howard, the former home secretary.

There had been grumblings against Mr. Duncan Smith within the Conservative Party for many weeks, as activists questioned his ability to gain ground on Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity has taken a hit over the war in Iraq.

The Conservatives supported Mr. Blair on Iraq, making it more difficult for them to capitalize on the prime minister's problems.

The British general election is expected in about 18 months time, and most political analysts predict another Labor Party victory no matter who is chosen as the Conservative's prime-minister-in-waiting.