a new beginning

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders signed a deal yesterday under which Zimbabwe's president of nearly three decades will cede some power, and both sides expressed hope for the country's future.

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders signed a deal yesterday under which Zimbabwe's president of nearly three decades will cede some power, and both sides expressed hope for the country's future.

President Thabo Mbeki said Mugabe will be president in the new government, while main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister. A smaller opposition group's leader, Arthur Mutambara, is deputy prime minister.

The deal is the result of three months of difficult negotiations mediated by Mbeki at the behest of the Southern African Development Community.

"We have to walk the same route the same way," Mugabe said in a speech after the signing ceremony, which was attended by leaders of the 14-member regional bloc and of the African Union.

"Are we beginning today? No. We have been walking the same route without knowing it, or not recognising each other.

"After all, we are all Zimbabweans and is there any other road, any other route to follow? History makes us walk the same route."

In his speech Tsvangirai said: "Our nation looks towards us ... to deliver on the commitments contained in this agreement."

He thanked Mbeki for his efforts in finding a solution that was "acceptable to all the parties". Tsvangirai also thanked African and world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "who acknowledged that the world cannot stand idly by while a member nation slides into famine and chaos".

He said Zimbabweans faced the option of uniting the country and moving forward or letting the impasse "plunge our country into the abyss of a failed state".

He saluted members of parliament for their willingness to work across parties lines. "If you were my enemy yesterday, today we are bound by the same patriotic duty and destiny," he said.

He called for legislators to be "driven by the hope of a new, better, brighter country" and the "hope of a new beginning."

Thousands of supporters of the two men gathered in front of the centre to celebrate, waving posters, chanting slogans and singing songs. Mugabe's supporters lifted their fists in the air in his party's salute; Tsvangirai's waved an open hand.

Mbeki and Tsvangirai announced a deal late on Thursday, without providing details before yesterday's signing.

The agreement calls for a cabinet with 31 members; 16 from the opposition and 15 from Mugabe's party. That would acknowledge Mugabe's party no longer has the public support it once had.

Mugabe would remain president and chairman of the cabinet, with Tsvangirai as vice chairman. Tsvangirai would head a new Council of Ministers that will supervise the work of the cabinet. - Sapa-AP

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