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Mike Nesbitt resigns as Ulster Unionist leader

On the back of a poor performance at the polls, the former broadcaster decided to call an impromptu press conference to announce his decision. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

THE Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt resigned on Friday night as some of his candidates continued to fight for seats.

On the back of a poor performance at the polls, the former broadcaster decided to call an impromptu press conference at 8pm to announce his decision.

In front of a dozen journalists who had made it to the Park Avenue Hotel in Belfast, Mr Nesbitt said it had been an "absolute honour" to lead the party, but "the buck stops here".

It was a sombre occasion as Mr Nesbitt was led into the building with his wife Lynda and their son. Former UUP leader Reg Empey was also in attendance.

The Strangford MLA said his biggest regret was that Northern Ireland society appeared to have emerged from the election more polarised and the electorate had rejected his hope for a post-sectarian vote.

"We will get there," he said amidst the flash of cameras.

"Some day Northern Ireland will vote as a normal democracy. We will vote in a post-sectarian election but it's now clear it will not happen during the duration of my political career."

A career journalist, he began his political career in 2011 when he won a seat in the assembly for the UUP in the Strangford constituency.

He became the Ulster Unionist leader on March 31 2012 when he beat colleague John McCallister by 536 votes to 129.

Before the press conference on Friday night, the Ulster Unionist leader refused to do any on-camera interviews in the face of his party’s poor performance at the polls.

He appeared at the Bangor count centre dressed down in a Ulster Rugby fleece, shying away from the cameras.

Mr Nesbitt had come under fire in the run up to the election for stating that he would be giving his second-preference vote to the SDLP.

He took no questions from the press following his short, conciliatory speech and as he left the podium he hugged his wife Lynda and their son, before being swiftly ushered out of the building by his party press officers.

Mr Nesbitt will stay on as an MLA for Strangford, with a new leader expected to be selected in the coming weeks.

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