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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 October 2007, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Opik to step down from party post
Lembit Opik MP
Lembit Opik has been Welsh party leader since 2001
The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Lembit Opik has announced he is to stand down from the post.

He told the party's autumn conference that he was doing so after six years so that the positions of assembly group leader and Welsh party leader could be decided at the same time.

Assembly group leader Mike German is due to announce his intentions about his own future to delegates on Sunday.

Mr Opik, speaking in Aberystwyth, also appealed for critics to be more open.

The Montgomeryshire MP went on to say: "To those who are prepared to criticise me and others behind our backs, I ask you what's the point of doing that?

"A little more openness will go a long way to make us a more cohesive force in Welsh politics. If you've something to say, the most effective thing to do is to be open about it."

Lembit Opik and girlfriend, Cheeky Girls singer Gabriela Irimina
We're happy with each other - be happy for us
Lembit Opik MP

Mr Opik, an MP since 1997 and the party's industry spokesman, has made regular headlines for his relationship with Cheeky Girls singer Gabriela Irimia.

He told delegates about the "unpleasant" experience of reading "inaccurate, salacious and libellous" press reports about his private life.

Mr Opik said he had been advised not to complain about false stories about his relationship with Ms Irimia.

"With hindsight, I'm not sure this was the best approach," he said.

He thanked Ms Irimia, who listened to his speech from the front row of the conference hall, for "putting up with all the rubbish and misrepresentations".

"We're happy with each other - be happy for us," he said.

Mr Opik said the Lib Dems made a mistake in May when they tried to pursue two sets of assembly coalition talks, with Labour on the one hand and with Plaid Cymru and the Tories on the other.

He said the Labour option was "discarded prematurely".

Mike German

But the party should strive for a distinctive voice.

He called for a campaign to re-categorise drug addicts as patients not criminals.

Giving addicts drugs on prescription would destroy the drug trade, he said.

Mr Opik said he wanted to concentrate on work in his constituency.

Lib Dem assembly leader Mike German paid tribute to Mr Opik as "a fantastic colleague and a fantastic communicator".

He said: "He has great talents and I know that he will use them to maximum effect in the wider party."

Mr German, who heads the party's six-strong assembly group, is due to reveal on Sunday whether he wants to carry on doing the job he has held since 1999.

He said he wanted to inform party members meeting in Aberystwyth of his decision first.

Lib Dem party rules state that a leadership election must be held within a year of an assembly election.

Meanwhile, delegates voted to change the rule that cost the Lib Dems a place in the proposed "rainbow coalition" with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives after the assembly election in May.

From now on, the chair of the party's national committee will have an additional and casting vote in the event of tied votes at meetings.

In Lib Dem discussions about forming an assembly government, a proposed coalition deal was not endorsed because of a vote tied at 6-6.

One delegate at Aberystwyth told BBC Wales: "Even the most obscure golf club has a rule allowing the committee chair to have an additional casting vote when votes are tied.

"Had the party had such a mechanism when the coalition deal was up for discussion, recent political events in Wales would have turned out very different."

The MP appeals to the press to show "a bit more respect".

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