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By Andy Bruce and Michael Holden
LONDON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Andrew stepped down from public duties on Wednesday, saying the controversy surrounding his ill-judged association with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein had caused major disruption to the royal family's work.
Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, denies an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by his friend Epstein, who killed himself in a U.S. prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
The scandal has escalated since Andrew's rambling explanations in a disastrous TV interview aired on Saturday left many viewers incredulous, and his apparent lack of compassion for Epstein's victims drew widespread condemnation.
In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace, Andrew said the scrutiny had become a "major disruption" to the work of the royal family and the charities associated with him.
"Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission," he said.
"Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."
Andrew's conduct has spilled over into political debate ahead of the Dec. 12 national election. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Party leader said there were questions to be answered, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the monarchy was "beyond reproach."
"I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein," Andrew said.
"His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure." (Editing by Guy Faulconbridge)
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