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MONTREAL (Reuters) - Gilles Duceppe, a longstanding advocate for Quebec independence, resigned on Thursday as leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois party, telling journalists he would have liked to have won more seats in Canada's general election.
Duceppe's resignation, combined with the departure on Thursday of a separatist member of Quebec's provincial parliament, began debate over the future of the independence movement in the predominately French-language province.
Duceppe, 68, came out of retirement this year to lead the Bloc to capture 10 seats in Monday's elections, but failed to win his own riding. Duceppe had quit the party in 2011, when the Bloc only won four seats.
"The Bloc Quebecois was fighting for its existence and my return was to save this party," he told supporters. "I would have evidently wanted to obtain more (seats) and to win my own riding. But I am leaving with the sense that my work was accomplished."
Even though it fields federal candidates in just one province, the Bloc was once a major force in Canadian politics, becoming the largest opposition party in the 1993 election.
Duceppe previously led the Bloc from 1997 to 2011, garnering between 38 and 54 seats in all but the last election in that period.
Canada's Liberal leader Justin Trudeau won a surprise majority government on Monday, defeating Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a promise of change.
Reporting By Allison Lampert; editing by Grant McCool