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Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II announced Monday that he would not seek the Senate seat held by his late uncle, Edward M. Kennedy.

Kennedy, 56, said in a statement that he would instead continue to run Citizens Energy, a nonprofit group he founded in 1979 to provide low-cost heating oil to the poor. Kennedy’s decision, which friends said he had agonized over, is likely to leave Massachusetts without a Kennedy in elected office for the first time in almost 50 years.

“Given all that my uncle accomplished, it was only natural to consider getting back involved in public office, and I appreciate all the calls of support and friendship that have poured in,” Kennedy, a son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said in his statement, which was posted on the Citizens Energy Web site Monday afternoon.

Monday’s decision ends heated speculation about whether Kennedy would choose to return to politics and carry the mantle of his family’s name, and connections, while representing Massachusetts. Kennedy, a popular six-term congressman, left politics in 1999, shortly after his brother was killed in a skiing accident and his former wife fought Kennedy’s effort to annul their marriage.

He considered running for governor in 2002, and was not thought to be interested in national politics until he gave an emotional tribute to Sen. Kennedy at a memorial service in Boston on Aug. 29.

Entry into the race by Kennedy, however, was likely to bring up questions about the oil that Citizens Energy receives from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and the personal attacks that come with the full-contact political sport that is played in Massachusetts.

Kennedy’s decision will pave the way for other Democrats, many of whom said they would not run against a Kennedy, to enter the race. Rep. Edward J. Markey said that he was considering a run.