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US congressman sent lewd pictures

Tearful US Republican congressman Anthony Weiner has admitted sending a lewd photograph of himself in his underwear to a young woman over Twitter and then lying repeatedly to protect himself.

But he defiantly refused to resign even after Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for a House ethics investigation into whether he broke the rules.

The extraordinary confession at a packed Manhattan news conference on Monday was a remarkable turn of events for Weiner, a married man who conceded to a "hugely regrettable" lapse in judgment.

House Democratic leaders tersely expressed disappointment and embarrassment, reflecting an erosion of support for the 46-year-old New York congressman and casting doubts on whether Weiner could hold onto his House seat let alone continue a bid for the New York City mayoralty in 2013.

Weiner, an outspoken liberal congressman, insisted he had done nothing wrong and said he would fully co-operate with a House inquiry.

"People who draw conclusions about me are free to do so," Weiner said. "I've worked for the people of my district for 13 years and in politics for 20 years and I hope they see fit to see this in the light that it is."

But in a new twist, Weiner also acknowledged he had engaged in inappropriate contact with six women over the course of three years through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and occasionally over the phone.

He said he had never met or had a physical relationship with any of the women and was not even sure of their ages. He also insisted he had never had sex outside of his marriage.

Last July, Weiner married Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Before his wedding, Weiner had been known as one of New York's most eligible bachelors.

Weiner had initially gained a national profile during the debate over President Barack Obama's health care plan when he outspokenly professed support for a government-run programme which would cover all Americans and later a "public option" to compete with private health insurance.

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