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Rudd Dumped as Gillard Becomes Australia's First Female PM

Australia's new prime minister Julia Gillard speaks during a press conference, in Canberra, 24 Jun 2010

A dramatic 24 hours has seen Kevin Rudd step down as Australia's prime minister after losing the support of his party colleagues. His political demise has been swift and brutal.

Mr. Rudd has been replaced by Julia Gillard, the first woman to lead the country. The daughter of British migrants, Ms. Gillard trained as a lawyer before entering politics.

Her challenge is to reunite a divided government and soothe the tensions of members of parliament worried about their party's chances of retaining power.

The Labor government has seen support among the electorate fall sharply, while backing for the conservative opposition has risen steadily.

Ms. Gillard says she is ready to fight for another term in office...

"I love this country and I was not going to sit idly by and watch an incoming opposition cut education, cut health and smash rights at work," she said. "My values and my beliefs have driven me to step forward to take this position as prime minister."

Support for her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, began to wane when he scrapped the centerpiece of his environmental policy, an emissions trading scheme, earlier this year. The decision led to accusations of political cowardice. Support continued to evaporate when the former leader announced plans for a controversial mining tax.

In the end, Labor's power brokers decided Mr. Rudd, a man who led the party to a big election win in November 2007, was a liability.

The former leader gave an emotional farewell speech, during which he rated keeping Australia out of recession at the top of his list of achievements during his tenure, as well as his apology to the past mistreatment of Aborigines.

Ms. Gillard is not expected to introduce many significant policy changes, although analysts believe she might push for an early withdrawal of Australia's 1,550 troops from Afghanistan, in an effort to address voter discontent about the war.