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the Associated Press

Blackwater Founder Steps Down as CEO

Beleaguered company has been heavily criticized for its activities in Iraq

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Grilled by the politicans ... Erik Prince, chairman of the Prince Group, LLC and Blackwater USA, testifies during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (Photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON - Blackwater founder Erik Prince is stepping down as the company's chief executive officer.

Prince said in a statement Monday that he has appointed a new president and a new CEO and that the moves were part of the beleaguered company's "continued reorganization and self-improvement."

Prince founded Blackwater in 1997 and last month the company changed its name to Xe.

The company has had a contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, but last month the State Department said it would not rehire Blackwater after its current contract with the company expires in May. The company has one other major security contract, details of which are classified.

A report by a House committee in October 2007 called Blackwater an out-of-control outfit indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. It said that Blackwater had been involved in nearly 200 shooting incidents since 2005.

In January, five Blackwater security guards pleaded not guilty to federal manslaughter and gun charges.

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