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Nortel Networks Corp. chief executive John Roth said Friday he will retire in April 2002, signalling a close to a reign which has seen the dramatic rise and fall of the tech giant.

Mr. Roth made the surprise announcement in a statement outlining chief operation officer Clarence Chandran's decision to resign his post immediately. Mr. Chandran had been on medical leave.

"Since Clarence is no longer available in our secession planning, I'll be working with our board of directors to undertake a search for my successor," Mr. Roth said.

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"Our priority is to have my successor in place well before I retire to ensure a smooth and orderly transition."

Mr. Roth expects to retire from his post in April 2002. He will not leave the company before its next annual meeting.

"This gives us plenty of time to recruit a successor and ensure a smooth transition," he said.

Mr. Roth, following shareholder outcry earlier this year over the company's reporting practices, had said he planned to stay with Nortel for at least a year.

Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel Networks has been hard hit by the current U.S. economic slowdown. Twice this year, the tech giant sent markets into a tailspin by issuing warnings that revenue growth would be below expectations.

Late last month, Nortel Networks met its most recent forecast for first-quarter operating losses and announced plans to cut another 5,000 jobs, although it said it still can't give investors guidance on how the rest of the year will unfold.

Nortel reported an operating loss of $385-million or 12 cents a share for the three months ended March 31 - excluding more than $2-billion (U.S.) in acquisition-related costs and $364-million in work force reduction costs. This loss was at the bottom end of the 10- to 12-cent range it predicted four days before the end of the quarter, when it dramatically chopped forecasts for the second time in five weeks and said it could no longer provide guidance for the year as a whole.

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The loss was a mirror image of a year-earlier operating profit of $347-million or 12 cents a share.

Revenue, meanwhile, came in at just under $6.18-billion, which was within the range Nortel forecast March 27 and was down from $6.3-billion a year earlier.

Mr. Roth began his career at then-Northern Telecom as a design engineer in 1969 and recalled that the company was, at the time, one-sixth the size of its chief rival, Lucent Technologies. Last year, Nortel - renamed under Mr. Roth's tenure as chief executive - passed Lucent, to take the place as the world's leading maker of telecommunications equipment.

In early April, Mr. Roth was inducted into the Canadian Bussiness Hall of Fame.

Taking the job as chief executive in 1997, he set out to lead Nortel into the future. "I still pictured myself as a designer at heart, so I set out to design a better company," he said in a recent speech.

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