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Irish prime minister retains party leadership in confidence vote

The embattled prime minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen, has held on to leadership of the country's governing Fianna Fail party following a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen

Cowen survives to contest an upcoming general election

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen survived a vote of confidence in his leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party on Tuesday, locking in his candidacy for upcoming parliamentary elections expected in March.

"The Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party has voted confidence in the leadership of An Taoiseach (prime minister) Brian Cowen," the party said a brief statement on its website.

Cowen, who has led Ireland's largest party for just under three years, garnered support from the majority of the 71 lawmakers in the secret ballot called on Sunday, according to state broadcaster RTE, though the exact margin of his victory was not immediately known.

Cowen said he was "happy" with the confidence shown in his leadership. He said the government - a coalition between Fianna Fail and the Green Party - had a four-year plan to revive the country, and "it's never the wrong time to do the right thing."

The vote followed a three-hour party meeting which saw a speech from the prime minister, as well as from Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, who had challenged Cowen's party leadership.

Bigger problems to come?

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin

It is not immediately clear if Martin will step down

Despite the short-term victory, Cowen is still expected to struggle at general elections, with Irish voters extremely unhappy with his government over its acceptance of a financial bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Ireland became the second eurozone country after Greece to require assistance after it was forced to accept a package worth 67 billion euros ($90 billion) to aid its struggling economy.

Martin had said publicly he would vote against Cowen over the latter's handling of the bailout, and what Martin described as the lack of preparations within Fianna Fail for the upcoming general elections.

Following the vote, Martin insisted he did not regret his decision to oppose Cowen.

"I fully respect the decision of my colleagues," he said, according to RTE. "One has to make a stand."

Cowen went on to thank Martin, and said he would seek to use his talents in the election. It was not immediately known if Martin would subsequently resign his post.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Sarah Harman

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