After days of mounting pressure over Britain's parliamentary expenses scandal, Michael Martin, the speaker of the House of Commons, announced Tuesday that he would step down - the first holder of the position to be ousted in more than 300 years. "In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of speaker on June 21," he said. A successor would be appointed the next day. He gave no further details and went on to conduct normal business. He is the highest-ranking public figure to fall victim to the expenses affair. Commentators depict his announcement as a sign that Prime Minister Gordon Brown has caved to pressure, further damaging his political future. Brown is battling disastrous poll ratings in advance of elections that must be held within a year. Conservative leader David Cameron is urging Brown to call an election as soon as possible, offering voters a chance to kick out lawmakers who have abused expenses. "This is not going to be easy," Cameron told BBC. "We need to rebuild confidence in the political system." For some, Martin was a scapegoat for all major political parties caught in a cascade of disclosures in the Daily Telegraph newspaper about their spending under an official program that allows members of Parliament to defray the costs of maintaining homes in London and in their home districts. The last time a speaker was ousted was in 1695 when Sir John Trevor was forced out after it was found he accepted a bribe to push through legislation.
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HUBBLE IS BACK OUT THERE
A rejuvenated Hubble space telescope, more powerful than ever, departed the space shuttle Tuesday and sailed off for new discoveries. Hubble - considered to be at its prime after five days of repairs and upgrades - was gently dropped overboard by the shuttle Atlantis astronauts. The shuttle and telescope had just crossed the Atlantic and were soaring 350 miles above the coast of northwestern Africa when robot arm operator Megan McArthur set Hubble free. Then the shuttle slowly backed away. The seven astronauts will inspect their ship one last time to make sure it has not suffered any serious damage from space junk. Atlantis is scheduled to land on Friday.