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Antigua's Premier Is Voted Out

Lester Bird's electoral loss ends a half-century family dynasty in the island nation.

March 25, 2004|From Associated Press

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua and Barbuda — Prime Minister Lester Bird conceded defeat Wednesday in general elections marked by corruption charges, ending a family dynasty that has dominated this Caribbean island nation for more than half a century.

The next leader, labor activist and longtime opposition leader Baldwin Spencer, danced a traditional jig to a calypso beat and promised to punish "crimes against the people."

"We have them now! Yes! Yes! Yes!" excited islanders chanted in the streets.

With all votes counted, preliminary results of Tuesday's vote showed Spencer's United Progressive Party with 12 of 17 parliamentary seats. Bird, who also held a seat in Parliament, was defeated for that post by Errol Cort, a former attorney general he fired in 2001.

Bird's Antigua Labor Party came away with just four seats, down from its previous nine. "I think that the people have decided that it was a time for change," he said.

Spencer, a 55-year-old labor activist, took the oath of office at the governor general's residence before hundreds of supporters and politicians. He said the government would get to work right away.

"There is no honeymoon period in this business," Spencer said.

The Bird family has dominated politics here since the 1950s, when Bird's father, the late Vere Bird Sr., was a revolutionary labor leader defying British colonizers to demand higher wages for cane cutters.

The elder Bird led his country to independence in 1981 and was prime minister until his retirement in 1994, when his son was elected.

Lester Bird's government has been badly damaged by scandals that in recent years have centered on allegations of bribery, misuse of funds in the national health insurance plan, and a 13-year-old girl's charges that the prime minister and his brother used her for sex and to procure cocaine.

Bird, 66, denied the latter charges and organized an inquiry that found no evidence supporting the allegations.

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