British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday he will step down as prime minister on June 27, more than 10 years after winning power in what was hailed as a new dawn for Britain that has since been darkened by the Iraq war.
"I tell you one thing: hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair told Labor Party members Thursday. "I may have been wrong, that's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else I did what I thought was right for our country."
Blair's announcement triggers a contest for the leadership of the ruling Labor Party. Finance minister Gordon Brown is favorite to win and become prime minister when Blair resigns next month.
Blair, US President George W. Bush's closest ally over Iraq, leaves office out of favor among voters for sending British forces to join the Iraq War.
A Labor Party rebellion in September forced him to say he would quit within a year, after serving 10 years.
"I think that's long enough, not only for me, but also for the country and sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down," Blair told party members in Trimdon in his northern England constituency.
Blair will also be remembered for helping bring peace to Northern Ireland after decades of violence and winning three straight elections for Labor for the first time.
An opinion poll published by the Guardian newspaper Thursday showed 60 percent of voters believed Blair would be remembered as a force for change.
The ICM poll said 44 percent believed he had been good for Britain.
Labor Party Chairman Hazel Blears said Blair's departure was a bitter-sweet moment: "He's gone at a time of his choosing, in the way that he wanted to go and that is absolutely right.?"
Blair had long been expected to hand over power before the end of his third term to let another Labor leader guide the party into the next national elections due by May 2010.
Blair quits as only the second prime minister in a century to have served 10 years, tainted by a corruption scandal in which he became the first serving prime minister to be quizzed by police in a criminal probe.
Detectives twice questioned Blair as a witness in their investigation into a political party funding scandal.
Blair and Brown were the twin architects of Labor's rise to power in 1997 after 18 years in the political wilderness.
Brown's chief challenge will be to revive support for Labor and overtake the opposition Conservatives in the opinion polls.
Conservative leader David Cameron, 40, has revitalized the party of Margaret Thatcher - the only prime minister to hold power longer than Blair in the past century -since he became leader in 2005. Polls suggest he could win a slim majority in parliament in national elections.
(China Daily via agencies May 11, 2007)