Peter Morrison  /  AP
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen speaks to the media during a press conference at the North South Ministerial Council plenary meeting in Armagh, Northern Ireland, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. Cowen recently called a general election for March 11. His announcement came at a time when his coalition partners threatened to withdraw their support over his plan to replace five ministers who resigned in the space of 24 hours from his Fianna Fail party. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
updated 1/22/2011 9:13:28 AM ET 2011-01-22T14:13:28

Prime Minister Brian Cowen says he has resigned as leader of Ireland's dominant Fianna Fail party but intends to keep leading the government through the March election.

Cowen's surprise announcement Saturday capped a week of political crises that brought his coalition government to the brink of collapse. Never before in Irish history has a politician sought to remain prime minister without being leader of the main government party.

Cowen was forced by furious party colleagues to quit as Fianna Fail chief after bungling an attempted pre-election Cabinet reshuffle Thursday. The other party in Cowen's government, the Greens, blocked his plan to promote six new faces into Cabinet posts.

The Greens forced Cowen instead to announce a March 11 election date.

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