Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Thursday, 15 September 2005 12:02 UK

Profile: Helen Clark

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark (R), addresses students during her election campaign at the Auckland University campus, 15 September
Helen Clark is New Zealand's first elected female leader
Helen Clark, a former university lecturer, is a consummate if somewhat dry politician who came to power in 1999 following her centre-left Labour Party's election win.

Since then she has kept her party in office at the head of different coalition governments and overseen an impressive spell of economic growth.

But to her critics, she remains intolerant of opposition and prone to micro-management - they have dubbed her Minister for Everything, and suggested the capital Wellington be known as Helengrad.

Bracketed with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for her so-called "third way" political credo, she has described her government's role as striking a balance between "head" - in the form of excessive economic deregulation - and "heart" - welfare policies that cost too much.

She has earned a reputation for principle and plain speaking.

If the market is left to sort matters out, social injustice will be heightened
Helen Clark, 1981

She has said it is "inevitable" New Zealand will become a republic, and was criticised for not being in the country when the Queen arrived for an official visit in 2002, although she did return in time for all the Queen's official engagements.

She risked damaging her country's ties with the United States and Britain by criticising their decision to go to war with Iraq.

Rebellious teenager

The daughter of a wealthy farming family, Ms Clark was born in Hamilton in 1950.

As a teenager she rebelled against her parents' conservative views, protesting against the Vietnam War and campaigning against foreign military bases in New Zealand.

She entered parliament in 1981, at a time when Labour was committed to free-market policies, a line she was not willing to follow.

"If the market is left to sort matters out, social injustice will be heightened and suffering in the community will grow with the neglect the market fosters," she said in her maiden parliamentary speech.

After helping to rebuild her battered party, she initiated her own coup, toppling Mike Moore as leader when Labour narrowly lost the 1993 election.

As Prime Minister, Helen Clark has worked hard on her presentation and image - not totally successfully, correspondents say.

She courted controversy in 2002 when she admitted she had put her signature on a painting auctioned for charity which she had not painted.

And she was criticised in 2004 for a high-speed rush by her motorcade to get her to a rugby match.

Ms Clark is said to enjoy opera, reading fiction, and going to the gym. Trekking is one of her favourite ways to relax.

She has been married since 1981 to academic Peter Davis.

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