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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Canada's PM sets resignation date
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Chretien: In power since 1993
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has announced he will leave office in February 2004 without seeking re-election but resisted pressure to quit his post immediately.

He said he hoped this would help heal a growing divide between his supporters and those of his Liberal Party rival, former finance minister Paul Martin, who have been pushing for his removal.


For 40 years the Liberal party has been like family to me. Its best interests are bred in my bones

Jean Chretien

The popular Mr Martin was shuffled out of Mr Chretien's cabinet in early June after the two men clashed over Mr Martin's unofficial leadership campaign.

Mr Chretien said he was stepping down in time for his successor to choose when to fight the next election, which must be held by the end of 2005.

Mr Chretien is the longest-serving Western leader after winning three consecutive majority victories for the Liberal Party, but opinion polls suggest his popularity is waning.

'Grooming successor'

The 68-year-old prime minister made his announcement at a hastily-arranged news conference at a Liberal Party caucus meeting in Saguenay, Quebec.

He said he needed more time to complete his agenda for the government and would step down in February 2004.

Paul Martin
Martin: 'Not to challenge Chretien's decision'
"At that time my work will be completed and my successor will be chosen."

"For 40 years, the Liberal Party has been like family to me. Its best interests are bred in my bones.

"I have reflected on the best way to bring back unity. To end the fighting. To resume interrupted friendships," he said.

A spokesman for his rival Mr Martin indicated that he would not challenge Mr Chretien's decision to quit in 2004, Reuters news agency said.

The BBC's Mike Fox in Montreal says Mr Chretien is hoping that the party will now go back to its traditions and unite behind its leader, giving him time to help groom someone to become his successor as leader and Canada's Prime Minister and beat off his arch rival Mr Martin.

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The BBC's Mike Fox reports from Quebec
"Jean Chretien was forced into making this surprise statement in an effort to end months of bitter civil war"
See also:

03 Jun 02 | Americas
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03 Jun 02 | Americas
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