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Danny Williams, who was first elected premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2003, announced Thursday he is leaving politics within two weeks.

"Today is one of those surreal days that you think about from time to time out of curiosity, but you never ever really allow your mind to go there fully because as you can see, the reality is just too overwhelming," Williams said in the lobby of the Confederation Building in St. John's.

"And I got to tell you I do in fact feel very much overwhelmed by the enormity of this today."

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What do you think of Williams's performance as N.L. premier? Share your thoughts.

Williams said he will step down on Dec. 3 and that Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale will take over as acting premier for the time being.

"Orson Welles once said that if you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story. So I've called you here today to announce the end of my story as a ninth premier of Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.

Williams, 61, quoted U.S. president John F. Kennedy when he spoke about why he entered politics.

"It was in November of 2000 when I decided to run, and a decade is a long time. At that time, I reflected upon the words of John F. Kennedy, who said, and I quote: 'Anyone can make a difference, and everyone should try.' And I’m darn glad that I did," Williams said.

No plans for federal run

In an interview with CBC News after he announced his resignation, Williams said he has "no plans to go into the federal scene."

POLITICAL REACTION

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Williams has been a "dominating force" in the politics in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Read more about the political reaction to the premier's surprise resignation.

"I did not give up provincial politics to go into federal politics, I can tell you that categorically," he said.

Williams said leaving the premier's office is one of the hardest things he's ever had to do, but he believes the timing is right.

He's said he's accomplished what he set out to do when he entered politics, pointing to the recent signing of the Lower Churchill power deal as a key part of his legacy.

Last week, Williams signed a deal between Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to develop the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador.

For the past few weeks, there have been persistent rumours that Williams would sign the deal and then quit by early 2011.

No fight too small, Wiliams says

During his speech, Williams also addressed some of his critics, admitting that he rarely shied away from a fight during his time as premier.

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An emotional Premier Danny Williams announces on Thursday that he is leaving politics on Dec. 3. ((CBC))

"You know, I laugh when critics and some reporters say that I’m nothing more than a fighter … someone always looking for a racket … never happy unless I’m taking someone on. Well folks, I am here to tell you today that those people are right," he said.

He said there has "not been one battle too great or too small" for his team if it thought it would lead to a better life for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We fought the federal government for equity under the Atlantic Accord, and won. We fought the big oil companies for more benefits, and we won and today we actually share a tremendous partnership and a mutual respect with them," he said.

Williams said the province's prospects have improved since he was elected premier.

"Make no mistake, this is the place that has been rejuvenated and re-energized in the past few years and we must continue to work together as one united to ensure that this continues," he said.

"If you step outside and breathe in the air, you are secure in knowing that you are breathing in success, the success of us being a have province. Our fiscal house is in order and a model for the rest of the country…. It has indeed been a great honour to serve as premier of Canada's youngest and coolest province."

The provincial house of assembly was scheduled to resume sitting Monday, but on Thursday the government announced that will be delayed until Dec. 6.

Williams said the provincial Progressive Conservative Party will hold a spring leadership convention. A provincial election is scheduled for next fall.

Williams's mother, Teresita Williams, told CBC News she thought her son should stay out of federal politics.

"My thoughts on it?" she said. "I’d kill him if he starts going into politics again. I'd shoot him first. He's served his term and did it well and he was a credit to his country but not federal politics. Dear God! He needs a rest."

Earlier this year, Williams underwent heart surgery in the United States.

Williams has served as Progressive Conservative leader since 2001, and as Opposition leader before becoming premier Oct. 21, 2003.

He studied political science and economics at Memorial University. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1969, received a degree in arts in law from Oxford University in England, then returned to Canada to earn a bachelor of law degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.