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Campbell, 64, named UK Lib Dem leader

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) Veteran foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell, 64, was named leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats today, declaring he was ready to modernise his party and challenge for power.

Campbell, a former Olympic sprinter, beat party financial spokesman Chris Huhne and president Simon Hughes.

But he now faces a tough task to revive his party's fortunes following a spate of scandals over the past two months.

Campbell replaces previous leader and fellow Scot Charles Kennedy who was forced to resign in January after admitting an alcohol problem.

Another one-time leadership contender, Mark Oaten, was forced to stand down from his front bench post after a newspaper revealed the married father-of-two had had a lengthy affair with a male prostitute.

Today, Campbell said the time had come for the party to look forward.

''Today is a victory not for me, but it's a victory for all Liberal Democrats,'' he told supporters. ''We have once again confounded our critics and commentators, many of whom wrote us off.

''The challenge is for all of us to lead this party back towards government at the next general election,'' he added.

Hughes was eliminated in the first round of voting and in the second, Campbell polled 57 per cent of the vote.

The Lib Dem contest follows the Conservative leadership competition which elected 39-year-old David Cameron as leader in December. Unlike the Tories however, the Lib Dem election failed to capture the public imagination.

The Liberal Democrats, who won 22 per cent of the vote in the 2005 election, would play a key role if the next general election resulted in a hung parliament.

It was the only mainstream group to oppose the war in Iraq, with Campbell a vocal critic.

Today he said he was ready to look at domestic affairs.

''I'm going to encourage the brightest and the best from every walk of life, from every part of the country, ... from every creed, of every background, of every religion to come and join our party,'' he said.

''I'm going to lead the party in a crusade against poverty, the poverty of income and the poverty of aspiration.'' Campbell, who competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, had urged voters to ignore concerns over his age. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and underwent chemotherapy before going on to make a full recovery.

REUTERS SI PM2329

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