Malta party defeated in March poll elects new leader

VALLETTA Wed May 8, 2013 6:18pm EDT

Outgoing Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi delivers his final speech as party leader during the party general council at the party's headquarters in Pieta, outside Valletta, May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Outgoing Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi delivers his final speech as party leader during the party general council at the party's headquarters in Pieta, outside Valletta, May 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi

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VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta's opposition Nationalist Party elected lawyer Simon Busuttil as its leader on Wednesday to succeed Lawrence Gonzi, who resigned after a heavy loss in a March 9 general election.

Gonzi, who had been party leader and prime minister for nine years, had led the party to a narrow victory in 2008.

Busuttil, 44, a member of the European Parliament until March when he resigned upon being elected to the Maltese parliament, has never held a government post.

He was elected to the party leadership after defeating three other candidates, including two former ministers.

The centre-right Nationalist Party had been in government for 15 years until its defeat amid divisions within its ranks.

In his acceptance speech, Busuttil promised to address the divisions and open up the party to new ideas.

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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