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Zimbabwe president, opposition sign deal to start power-sharing talks

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have agreed to hold talks within two weeks to try to resolve the country's political crisis.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have agreed to hold talks within two weeks to try to resolve the country's political crisis.

The two signed an agreement in Harare Monday afternoon to begin formal talks aimed at hammering out a power-sharing deal months after March's disputed presidential election and the widely discredited runoff vote last month.

Mugabe said the talks will "chart a new way" for Zimbabwe but urged negotiators to act without influence from Europe or the United States.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Tsvangirai said he will be "putting the interests of Zimbabwe at the forefront."

The agreement, which marked the first face-to-face meeting between the two in a decade, was signed in the presence of mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Monday's breakthrough came after Mbeki agreed Friday to work closely with the United Nations and the African Union in his role as mediator.

The South African leader was appointed by the main regional bloc to oversee mediation between the government and opposition since July 10, but has been criticized for his soft approach favouring Mugabe.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round of voting in the March 29 elections, but the electoral commission said he failed to secure the outright majority necessary to avoid a second round.

The Movement for Democratic Change leader then pulled out of the June run-off vote, citing escalating violence against his party. The June 27 presidential run-off was widely regarded as a sham.

Mugabe's party has said it was open to power-sharing but only if he heads the unity government. The opposition said it is open to a "government of national healing" but only with moderate ruling party members and not Mugabe.

The opposition party said state-sponsored violence over the past few months has left more than 120 dead, thousands injured and tens of thousands homeless.

Many observers and analysts say a coalition is the only way out of the country's impasse and the only way to help ease the economic crisis.

On Monday, Zimbabwe's central bank issued a new 100 billion-dollar note in a futile attempt to keep up with shortages of cash and the world's worst inflation running at 2.2 million per cent.

Meanwhile, the European Union is expected Tuesday to widen sanctions targeting Mugabe and his party, including tightening a travel ban.

Earlier in July, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Mugabe and his top aides. The aim of the resolution was to punish the ruling party for allegedly overseeing political violence and force negotiations.

With files from the Associated Press

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