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Indian PM Singh says he will not run for third term

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced he will step down after elections this year. The 81-year-old named Rahul Gandhi to take his place if his Congress party stays in power.

In what was only his third news conference in a decade, Singh said on Friday he would step aside after 10 years in office after the next elections, even if his ruling Congress party were to win.

"In a few months' time after the general elections, I will hand over the baton to a new prime minister, " Singh said.

He said Congress would announce its candidate for prime minister in due course, at the same time recommending to his party that it select Rahul Gandhi - a scion of the Gandhi dynasty that has politically dominated India since independence from Britain in 1947.

"Rahul Gandhi has outstanding credentials ... I do hope our party will take that decision at an appropriate time," he added.

Growing opposition momentum

Surveys show, however, that Singh's Congress party is very unlikely to win the next elections - due by May this year - against an opposition Bharatiya Janata Party under Nerendra Modi that is fast gaining in support.

Singh spoke out vehemently against Modi, saying it would be "disastrous" if he were to become prime minister.

The 64-year-old Modi, a Hindu nationalist and chief minister of the state of Gujarat, has been accused of doing too little to stop anti-Muslim riots there in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people died, although several investigations have cleared him of personal involvement.

Referring to the riots, Singh said that political strength did not consist in "presiding over the massacre of innocent citizens in Ahmedabad," the largest commercial city in Gujarat.

Singh's comments come as the Congress party is being increasingly tainted by corruption scandals and internal feuding. Critics are also claiming the party is unable to deal with a faltering economy and long-running problems of povery, infrastructure and education.

Singh was chosen as prime minister in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

tj/jlw (AP, dpa, AFP)

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