Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan resigned unexpectedly as a senior executive at News Corp. yesterday, ending his father's hopes that he would...

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NEW YORK — Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan resigned unexpectedly as a senior executive at News Corp. yesterday, ending his father’s hopes that he would someday command the sprawling media empire that owns Twentieth Century Fox and Fox News Channel.

The sudden departure put the spotlight back on who would eventually succeed Australian Murdoch, who is 74 years old.

The next likely candidate in the Murdoch family is Lachlan’s 32-year-old brother, James, but given his youth he would not likely be a candidate for many years.

Lachlan, who serves as publisher of the New York Post, said in a statement that he would move from New York back home to Australia with his wife and son, but he did not elaborate on his reasons for leaving.

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He will remain on the company’s board of directors.

Rupert Murdoch said in a statement that he was “particularly saddened by my son’s decision.” He also said he “respected the professionalism and integrity that he has exhibited throughout his career.”

Murdoch, who built the company after inheriting a newspaper from his own father, has said he hopes that News Corp. would eventually be run by a member of his family, which controls 30 percent of the company’s voting shares.

However, Murdoch, who seems healthy and fit, has given no sign that he intends to step aside anytime soon.

Lachlan, 33, had been considered his father’s favorite to succeed him, though his youth and relatively short business experience made his succession unlikely in the near term.

Lachlan joined the company’s Australian newspaper business in 1994, and eventually became News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, in charge of its Australian newspapers, the Post and a group of U.S. television stations.

Lachlan’s departure renews pressure on News Corp. to clarify its succession plans. For the moment, Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin is seen as the one who would run the company should Murdoch retire or become unable to serve as CEO. Chernin, 54, signed a five-year contract with News Corp. last year.