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Mike Nesbitt elected Ulster Unionist Party leader

Former television presenter Mike Nesbitt has been elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in Belfast today.

The married father-of-four was elected by a ballot of party members in Belfast. He defeated rival John McCallister following a fiercely-fought leadership battle which revolved around whether to take the UUP into opposition at Stormont.

Mr Nesbitt (54) pledged to instil a new spirit among people in Northern Ireland.

"I want everyone in this country to get out of bed with a sense of purpose. I want this party to wake up with a sense of purpose," he said.

"I want us to reach out to become the party of choice for every pro-union voter in Northern Ireland, including those who still say they want a United Ireland, but privately accept there is no longer a single reason not to enjoy their continued membership of the United Kingdom."

Around 850 people attended today's party AGM in Belfast and around 660 voted.

The UUP is the minority unionist party after it was overtaken in the polls by the Democratic Unionists following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which secured the peace process. It has been hit by division and its last leader Tom Elliott was only elected 18 months ago.

The party is debating withdrawing its sole ministry in the Executive and going into opposition, which had been Mr McCallister's rallying call.

Mr Nesbitt told members at today's meeting in a Belfast hotel: "We need loyalty, trust, discipline, these are the values that must underpin our dedication to public service.

"This is a great party, today in your vote you have empowered us to say that the last 14 years are over."

Mr Nesbitt was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year for Strangford and before that he was a Victim's Commissioner.

Mr McCallister, who delivered his wife Jane's second baby earlier this week, finished a distant second, netting only about a third of the votes.

Mr Nesbitt joined UTV as a presenter and reporter in 1992, being joined by his wife Lynda Bryans to co-present evening news programme UTV Live in 1996. He was formerly with BBC Radio Ulster.

Mr Nesbitt left UTV in 2006 and became a Victims' Commissioner in 2006, working to promote the interests of survivors of Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict.

He resigned in February 2010 to stand for election to Westminster in Strangford, losing to the DUP's Jim Shannon. He was elected to the assembly last year.

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