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Blair will announce departure plan today

The British leader likely will be gone within seven weeks. Gordon Brown is favored to succeed him.

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce his intention today to step down as Labor Party leader, setting the clock ticking on the final weeks of his 10-year premiership.

Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister would set out his intentions to cabinet colleagues this morning. He then is expected to travel to his Sedgefield constituency in northern England to make a public announcement.

Speculation about Blair's resignation date had intensified after he celebrated a decade in power May 1.

In British parliamentary tradition, the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons serves as prime minister. Blair's announcement that he is stepping down as Labor leader will trigger a leadership contest that sees him replaced as party leader, and prime minister, within about seven weeks.

Treasury chief Gordon Brown, Blair's longtime friend and rival, is the favorite to succeed him, although two backbench Labor lawmakers also have announced their intention to run.

Blair's announcement has been awaited since Sept. 30, 2004, when he said in a television interview that he would serve only one more term - his third - as prime minister.

The announcement, made when he was facing a surgical procedure to correct a heart problem, was one he came to regret, as opponents, party rivals and the media pressed him to set a date for his departure.

In September, Blair told delegates at Labor's annual conference that the gathering would be his last as party leader.

Dogged by the unpopular war in Iraq and weakened within his own party, the once-unassailable Blair came to be seen as a lame duck.

Conservative leader David Cameron accused Blair yesterday of being "a prime minister who . . . simply doesn't understand that it's over."

Prime ministers recently have tended to stay on in the House of Commons for a time.

John Major, Blair's predecessor, kept his seat for four years, and Margaret Thatcher served out the remaining 18 months of her parliamentary term after resigning as prime minister in 1990.

Ted Heath, Conservative prime minister in 1970-74, continued in the Commons for 26 years.

British Aide Guilty In Leaking Memo

A British civil servant was convicted yesterday in London of leaking a classified memo about

a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush in a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

David Keogh, a cipher expert, had admitted passing on the secret memo about April 2004 talks between the two leaders in which Bush purportedly referred to bombing the Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Keogh, 50, told London's Central Criminal Court that he did not think publishing the document would hurt Britain's security or international relations.

Blair said he had no information about any proposed U.S. action against Al-Jazeera, and the White House called the claims "outlandish

and inconceivable."

- Associated Press