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Scottish leader puts second independence referendum on hold

Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon told lawmakers Tuesday she was postponing plans to seek a second independence referendum, saying she would revisit the issue when the terms of Britain's departure from the European Union become clearer.

In March, Sturgeon called for a second vote on whether Scotland should break away from the United Kingdom to be held between late 2018 and early 2019. She had argued that would give Scots an alternative to Brexit.

Sturgeon said that she had reflected on the issue after the June 8 general election, which saw her Scottish National Party lose 21 of its 54 seats in the national Parliament.

"We will not seek to introduce the legislation for an independence referendum immediately," she told the Scottish Parliament Tuesday.

But she left options open, saying she still wanted to give Scots a choice at the end of the Brexit process when "clarity has emerged" about how Scotland will be impacted by Britain's breakup with the EU.

In the meantime, she said she would focus attention on seeking to influence Brexit negotiations "in a way that protects Scotland's interests."

Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday that Sturgeon should "completely take off the table the question of a second independence referendum in Scotland."

"I think that was the clear message from the general election and I think now is the time for the United Kingdom to be pulling together and not be driven apart," May said.

Another Scottish independence referendum must be approved by May's government for it to be legally binding.

Scots chose to stay in the U.K. in a 2014 referendum. But the debate about Scottish independence was reignited after last June's national Brexit referendum: while Britain as a whole voted to leave the European Union, in Scotland the vote was 62 to 38 percent to remain in the bloc.