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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 04:30 GMT

World: Europe

Blair praises Ashdown

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has paid a glowing tribute to the leader of the country's Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, who's announced he's standing down later this year.

Mr Blair described Mr Ashdown as one of the outstanding party leaders of his generation.

Mr Ashdown said yesterday he'd be giving up his party's leadership in June after elections to the European Parliament and would not seek re-election as an MP at the next general election.

The leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, William Hague, however, criticised Mr Ashdown for trying to get as close as possible to the Labour government, saying this strategy had weakened the Liberal Democrats.

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