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Zimbabwean Rivals Agree to Negotiations

Tsvangirai's party is attempting to avoid the same fate. Opposition officials say privately that they will agree to join the government only if some key levers of power -- rather than just a few cabinet posts -- are transferred to their control.

They also won an important concession in having Mbeki's role diminished. Opposition officials contended that he favored Mugabe. Though Mbeki was highly visible Monday, mediation will now be overseen by a group that includes Jean Ping, a top African Union official, and United Nations envoy Haile Menkerios.

The talks also will include Arthur Mutambara, head of an opposition splinter faction based mainly in the Matabeleland region. Mutambara also signed the agreement on Monday.

"This is the beginning of the end of Mugabe's rule and influence," said Dumisani Muleya, news editor of the Zimbabwe Independent. "The political and economic fundamentals dictate some transfer of the power."

Yet Mugabe, 84, has long demonstrated formidable survival instincts, first in rising to the top of the 1970s guerrilla movement that forced the white-supremacist regime of Rhodesia from power and, more recently, in holding off repeated challenges to his authority -- including from within his own party.

In each phase so far, he has outmaneuvered or simply outlasted rivals. Among the elements encouraging opposition leaders Monday was the two-week timeline for talks.

"There's a real sense of urgency," said opposition lawmaker David Coltart, who is part of the Mutambara faction of the opposition and is not allied with Tsvangirai. "It's good. It's positive, but there's a long way to go."

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