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Parti Quebecois leader Pierre Karl Peladeau gestures as he speaks after being elected during a ceremony at the convention center in Quebec City, May 15, 2015. Peladeau stepped down on May 2, 2016, less than a year after being elected, saying he needed to choose his family over his work. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger/File Photo

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By Allison Lampert

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The leader of the separatist party in Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec stepped down on Monday less than a year after being elected, saying he needed to choose family over work.

The abrupt resignation of Parti Quebecois leader Pierre Karl Peladeau, 54, a former chief executive of Quebec's largest media company, Quebecor Inc, led to speculation he may return to the business world.

He became the party's leader in May 2015 promising to take Quebec out of Canada and make it a country but he struggled to make gains against the ruling provincial Liberals.

"I had to make a choice between my family and our political project," Peladeau said during a surprise news conference. "I chose my family."

Speculation about Peladeau's political future had increased after his marriage last year to talk-show host and producer Julie Snyder foundered. The two announced a separation in January. At the time, Peladeau said he would stay on as leader.

During its previous times in government, the Parti Quebecois unsuccessfully held two referendums on the province seceding from Canada, but recent polls showed the cause had faded as a priority with voters.

The task of rebuilding after the party's worst defeat in 40 years in the April 2014 election proved an uphill battle against the Quebec Liberals, a federalist party, as separatist forces split between the PQ and rival Quebec Solidaire.

The abrupt departure of Peladeau, known as PKP, had little initial market impact, with the next provincial election likely years away.

The PQ has traditionally trod a careful line between keeping the dream of independence alive and scaring off voters who want to stay in Canada or have simply had enough of the debate over secession.

"The sovereigntist movement is in a period of turmoil but that preceded Peladeau and I think it will be there after him," said Christian Bourque, a pollster for Quebec-based Leger Marketing.

Peladeau's resignation surprised Quebec's political class.

Former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, who recruited Peladeau to the party, told Radio Canada: "I am profoundly saddened because I believe this is a very talented man of great value who brought a lot to the Parti Quebecois."

Members of the party's parliamentary caucus will choose an interim party leader by week's end, said Bruno-Pierre Cyr, a spokesman for Peladeau. The party had 30 seats in the 125-seat legislature before the resignation of Peladeau, who also resigned his parliamentary seat.

(Additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish)

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