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Zimbabwe Opposition to Hold Formal Talks With Ruling Party

Zimbabwe's main opposition is preparing to hold formal talks with President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, in an effort to end the country's political crisis.

Officials for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) say party leaders are expected to sign an agreement to start formal negotiations with the ruling Zanu-PF party as early as Monday.

The breakthrough came on Friday when South African President Thabo Mbeki announced plans to work closely with the African Union and United Nations in his mediation efforts.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had insisted on an additional mediator, accusing Mr. Mbeki of favoring the ruling party.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Sunday that talks between the MDC and the ruling party will be the first step in giving President Mugabe a "safe exit" from power.

In an interview with BBC News, Mr. Odinga described the Zimbabwean leader as an embarrassment to the African continent, adding that he should only be allowed to retain a ceremonial presidency.

Mr. Mugabe was re-elected last month in a widely condemned run-off vote in which he was the only candidate.

Mr. Tsvangirai dropped out before the election after many of his supporters were killed in violence he said was state-sponsored.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.