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Gary Robichaud, the leader of the New Democratic Party in PEI since April, 2002, announced Thursday that inoperable lung cancer will force him to take a leave of absence from the party.

Mr. Robichaud, 41, said he will begin cancer treatments in January.

"Honestly, it certainly is a frightening thing to go through," Robichaud told reporters Thursday. "But at the same time, I think if all the stars are aligned and if everything is in place, then this is something I can beat."

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A French and English teacher at Three Oaks High School in Summerside, Mr. Robichaud said he plans to keep working but leading a political party is out of the question.

He plans to return to the party when his health will allow.

"I feel good about my chances with respect to my age and my demographic and being a non-smoker, non-drinker," he said at a news conference.

Mr. Robichaud, who faced the daunting task of rebuilding a party that lost its only seat in the provincial legislature in the 2000 election, was defeated in the September election as his party failed to win a seat.

He struggled to field a full roster of candidates, but was praised for giving strong performances in the public debates with Progressive Conservative Leader Pat Binns and Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz.

The NDP executive council will meet Dec. 9 to discuss appointing an interim leader.

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