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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Will Leave Office in June

TRIMDON, England -- Tony Blair said Thursday that he would step down as British prime minister on June 27, closing a decade of power in which he fostered peace in Northern Ireland, presided over an unprecedented period of prosperity and followed the United States to war in Iraq.

In a somber farewell, Blair looked overcome with emotion, struggling to retain his trademark broad grin as cheers rang out from supporters at Trimdon Labour Club in his Sedgefield constituency in northern England.

Treasury chief Gordon Brown, Blair's dour partner in reforming the Labour Party and a sometimes impatient rival in government, was expected to win election easily as the party's new leader and become the next prime minister.

"Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair told supporters. "I may have been wrong, but that's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

Blair has stopped just short of openly endorsing Brown, a stern Scot who lacks his charisma and common touch.

Blair embraced dozens of local Labour activists as he arrived to greet around 250 supporters packed into the former mining village's clubhouse.

Blair, 54, saved his long-expected announcement to return to the district where he won election to the parliament in 1983, and where he announced in 1994 that he was a candidate to lead the Labour Party.

Blair's announcement came days after he celebrated the 10th anniversary of Labour's landslide election victory of May 1, 1997

Since then, he has been one of the most praised and reviled leaders in British history -- the man who transformed the Labour Party and helped bring an end to Northern Ireland's Troubles but angered many of his supporters by committing Britain to a bloody, unpopular war in Iraq.

When he was elected at the age of 43 in 1997, Blair was the youngest prime minister of the 20th century, the first born after World War II and the only one to have played in a college rock band. He transformed Labour from an old-style social-democratic party to the centrist "New Labour" and led it to three consecutive election victories.

Under the stewardship of Blair and Brown, the British economy has thrived -- London rivals New York as the world's pre-eminent financial center, gross domestic product is up, unemployment is down and interest rates are low, though rising. Blair's much-promised reforms to health care and education remain incomplete, however, and soaring house prices and increasing personal debt threaten to widen the divide between haves and have-nots.

But despite his accomplishments -- particularly an end to three decades of violence in Northern Ireland -- Blair's legacy seems to be dominated by Iraq.

His decision to stand shoulder to shoulder with U.S. President George W. Bush by committing troops to the invasion of Iraq divided his party and the country. Blair said he was content for history to judge him, but four years on and with almost 150 British troops dead in Iraq, the war is more unpopular.

In recent months, Blair's thoughts have turned to the lessons of his decade in power.

"When I first started in politics, I wanted to please everyone," Blair said during a tour of the Middle East in December. "After a time I learned that you can't please everyone, and you learn that the best thing is to do what you think is right and everyone can make their judgment."