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Ireland set to have 1st openly gay prime minister

Ireland's governing Fine Gael party has elected Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, as its new leader and the country's likely next prime minister.

Leo Varadkar would also be 1st Irish prime minister from an ethnic minority

Leo Varadkar celebrates in Dublin on Friday. At 38, Varadkar is poised to be Ireland's youngest leader, as well as the first from an ethnic-minority background and the first openly gay leader. (Brian Lawless/PA via Associated Press)

Ireland's governing Fine Gael party has elected Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, as its new leader and the country's likely next prime minister.

Varadkar defeated rival Simon Coveney in a contest to replace Enda Kenny, who resigned last month.

Coveney won the votes of a majority of party members, but Varadkar was backed by most lawmakers and local representatives to give him victory Friday under the centre-right party's electoral college system.

He is highly likely to become prime minister in Ireland's coalition government, although not immediately. Kenny will remain for a couple of weeks while Varadkar holds talks with other members of the Fine Gael-led coalition government.

At 38, Varadkar will be Ireland's youngest leader, as well as the first from an ethnic-minority background and the first openly gay leader.

Varadkar was born in Dublin in 1979, the son of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse. He came out publicly as gay in the run-up to a 2015 referendum that legalized same-sex marriage in Ireland.

If confirmed as prime minister, Varadkar will lead a country still emerging from the shadow of the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit the debt-fuelled "Celtic Tiger" economy particularly hard after a period of rapid growth.

He also will have to steer Ireland during complex divorce negotiations between Britain and the EU. Brexit has major implications for Ireland, the only EU country to share a land border with the United Kingdom.

Varadkar said he was "aware of the enormous challenges ahead. I'm ready for those challenges, as are we as a party."

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