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Ahern steps down as Irish leader

6 May 08 19:08 GMT

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has officially stepped down from office.

Mr Ahern announced last month that he would be leaving his position amid a deepening crisis surrounding his personal finances.

His successor Brian Cowen will be nominated in the Dáil to the Office of the Taoiseach on Wednesday.

One of his final duties was opening a new 25m euro visitors' centre on the site of the Battle of the Boyne with NI First Minister Ian Paisley.

More than 1,500 people gathered to watch them use 17th century swords to cut the tape at Oldbridge House.

Mr Ahern paid tribute to Mr Paisley for the role he had played in returning devolution to Northern Ireland.

Thanking him, Mr Paisley said there could be no return to violence.

"The killing times must be ended forever and no tolerance must be given to any who advocate their return," he said.

"A strong dedication to peace and an intolerance of murder must drive us forward."

Mr Paisley presented the Irish premier with a King James version of the Bible to mark the occasion.

Mr Ahern officially tendered his resignation as taoiseach, a job he has held since 1997, on Tuesday.

He announced last month he would be stepping down, as pressure on him mounted while a tribunal investigated his personal finances.

Mr Cowen succeeds him as Irish premier and Fianna Fáil leader.

Mr Ahern and Mr Paisley were in County Meath at the site of a decisive 1690 battle, when Protestant King William III defeated the Catholic King James II - something celebrated every 12 July at Orange Order parades across Northern Ireland.

Symbolic ceremony

After attending the symbolic ceremony with Mr Paisley, who is also stepping down this month as Northern Ireland's first minister, Mr Ahern headed back to Dublin to return his seal of office to President McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin, her official residence in Phoenix Park.

Mr Ahern, 56, has been taoiseach since June 1997 and has been a member of the Irish Parliament for 31 years.

He announced on 2 April that he would be stepping down, amid mounting pressure as a public inquiry investigating planning corruption in the 1990s questioned him about his personal finances.

Mr Ahern said he had not done anything wrong, but was quitting because he did not want the constant focus on his finances to affect his Fianna Fáil party.

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