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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah, arrive at St. Pancras rail station in London Tuesday. ((Stefan Rousseau/Reuters))

Britain will hold a national election May 6, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Tuesday.

Brown, 59, made the announcement after visiting Buckingham Palace to formally ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for the election.

"The Queen has kindly agreed to the dissolution of Parliament, and the general election will take place on May 6," Brown said after the meeting.

The Labour Party has been in power since Tony Blair's victory in 1997, but Brown is facing a strong challenge from Conservative Leader David Cameron, who is trying to win over voters with a promise of "a modern Conservative alternative" to the Labour government.

Standing outside 10 Downing Street after meeting the Queen, Brown said there will be "many big challenges and many big decisions to make over the next few months, upon which our future success depends."

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David Cameron, Britain's opposition Conservative Party leader, addresses supporters near Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament Tuesday in central London. ((Reuters file photo))

Brown, who served as chancellor of the exchequer while Blair was prime minister, is expected during the campaign to point to his success at steering the country through the recession, but opposition leaders will have several opportunities to challenge him.

Brown, who has never won a national election as leader of his party, has agreed to take part in three leaders' debates during the campaign.

Much of the campaigning is expected to focus on the economy as Britain struggles to recover from the recession. 

Cameron, 43, has said his party would start moving forward with spending cuts this year, but Labour has said major cuts should be delayed until 2011 to give the economy more time to recover.

The election is expected to be a close race and it could lead to a hung Parliament, in which no party has an absolute majority, for the first time since 1974.

Parliament will be officially dissolved on April 12.

With files from The Associated Press