Candidate of Liberal Democrats tells tabloid of homosexual relationships

A leading contender for the leadership of the opposition Liberal Democrats reportedly told a tabloid newspaper published Thursday that he has had homosexual relationships but that he still intends to run for the party's top position. Simon Hughes' interview with The Sun comes at a time of crisis for Britain's third largest political party.

Last weekend, its law and order spokesman, Mark Oaten, quit because of newspaper allegations that he had paid for sex with a male prostitute. Only two weeks earlier, party leader Charles Kennedy was forced to resign after acknowledging a drinking problem.

Now the party, whose opposition to the Iraq war had helped its popularity to soar, is fighting to restore its political credibility, cope with plunging poll ratings and pick a new leader to replace Kennedy.

"I am perfectly willing to say that I have had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships in the past," The Sun quoted Hughes, 54, as saying. "I hope that does not disqualify me from doing a good job in public life, and I propose to carry on doing that with the usual enthusiasm and determination."

He also reportedly admitted to phoning Man Talk, a gay chat service. Hughes said his admission would not affect his bid for the party leadership, The Sun reported in its front-page story.

Recently, Hughes had given other interviews denying he was gay, saying he had thought about getting married but had not been "as successful as I would have liked." The Sun quoted him as expressing sympathy for Oaten.

"Nobody has a perfect life. I have never claimed I have. Very few people have simple lives," Hughes said. In a separate interview with Press Association, the British news agency on Thursday quoted Hughes as saying:

"I believe that people have a right to a private life, providing that their private life does not impinge upon their public responsibilities. I have always maintained that someone's sexual orientation should not be a barrier to public life in modern Britain."

He said he simply decided to publicly discuss his sexual past. "No element of illegality or payment has ever been involved," PA quoted him as saying. "I do not believe that anything that I have done has impinged upon my capacity to serve my constituents or fulfill any of the roles that I have sought, undertaken or am seeking for the future. "I intend to continue to work for them with enthusiasm", reports the AP. N.U.