Former London mayor Livingstone quits Labour over antisemitism accusations

FILE PHOTO - Former London mayor Ken Livingstone leaves after appearing on the LBC radio station in London, Britain, April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Former London mayor Ken Livingstone resigned from the Labour Party on Monday, saying that a row over anti-Semitism allegations against him had become a distraction for the party's leadership.

Livingstone, the mayor of London from 2000 and 2008, was suspended from Labour after he said in April 2016 that Hitler had supported Zionism.

Last year Labour extended that suspension, but party leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced accusations that he has been too soft on anti-Semitism in the party.

Livingstone, a veteran socialist, denied in a statement on Monday that he was guilty of anti-Semitism.

But he added: "I also recognise that the way I made a historical argument has caused offence and upset in the Jewish community. I am truly sorry for that."

"Any further disciplinary action against me may drag on for months or even years, distracting attention from Jeremy's policies," Livingstone said.

"I am therefore, with great sadness, leaving the Labour Party."

Corbyn on Monday welcomed Livingstone's resignation. Labour did not perform as well as some had expected in some parts of London in local elections this month, with some attributing that to Corbyn's handling of the anti-Semitism row.

"Ken Livingstone's resignation is sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics, but was the right thing to do," he said in a statement.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by William Maclean)