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Aug 12, 10:40 AM EDT

Anti-Islam candidate among contenders to lead Britain's UKIP

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LONDON (AP) -- Eleven candidates are vying to lead Britain's right-wing U.K. Independence Party, including the founder of an anti-Islam organization whose inclusion in the race has divided the party.

Anne Marie Waters, founder of a group called Sharia Watch, is on the list announced late Friday despite opposition from some UKIP members. Party leaders blocked her from being a candidate in June's national election, citing her views on Islam.

UKIP opposes Britain's European Union membership, and played a key role in bringing about the 2016 referendum that ended in a decision to leave the bloc.

But the party has struggled since achieving its main goal. It has no members in Britain's Parliament and lacks a potential leader as well-known as ex-chief Nigel Farage.

Farage has said that UKIP will be "finished" if it becomes an anti-Islam party rather than sticking to its core policies of leaving the EU and controlling immigration.

Mike Hookem, a UKIP lawmaker serving in the European Parliament, said Saturday he was resigning as a party whip to protest Waters' inclusion in the leadership race.

"I am not prepared to support someone who seeks to single out a section of our society simply due to their religious beliefs," he said.

UKIP members will vote for a new leader next month, with the winner announced at a party conference on Sept. 29.

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