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Zimbabwe political rivals sign historic power-sharing deal

HARARE (AFP) — Zimbabwe's leaders signed a historic deal Monday that will see President Robert Mugabe share power with his arch-rival in a bid to resolve a ruinous political crisis in a country in economic meltdown.

However, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the deal, said later in the day that the unity government had not yet been finalised.

"Some discussions have already started about the constitution of this inclusive government, (but) they have not yet concluded," Mbeki said. "I am confident that they will do so as soon as possible."

Shortly after the signing ceremony in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, the 84-year-old Mugabe said he was "committed" to working with longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai in the new government.

"Let us be allies," said Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980.

"People will want to see if what we promise is indeed what we strive to do. ... We are committed, I am committed, let us all be committed."

But the veteran leader, who had previously vowed that the opposition would never rule in his lifetime, also showed his defiant side, repeating earlier warnings about outside influence in Zimbabwe.

While his rhetoric had cooled as power-sharing talks pushed ahead in recent weeks, during his lengthy speech after the signing Mugabe lashed out at Britain and the United States.

"Why is the hand of Britain and America here, Zimbabwe is a sovereign country, only the people of Zimbabwe has the fundamental right to govern it. They alone will set up government, they alone will change it."

The new government is the result of protracted talks mediated by Mbeki between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Under the deal Mugabe will remain president while Tsvangirai will serve as prime minister.

Tsvangirai used his first platform as head of government to call on Zimbabwe's rival parties to work together to "unite" the country.

"I, the prime minister of Zimbabwe, call ZANU-PF and MDC to unite Zimbabwe. Divisions belong to the past," Tsvangirai said.

"Only through public acknowledgement of past wrongs can we start the process of national healing."

He also called for the economically-shattered southern African country's doors to be reopened to international aid.

"The international aid organisations came to help our country and found our doors locked," Tsvangirai said. "We need to unlock our doors to aid -- we need medicine, food, and doctors back in our country."

Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal brought immediate reaction from the International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn who said he was ready to talk with the new government.

""We stand ready to discuss with the new authorities their policies to stabilize the economy, improve social conditions, and reduce poverty," said Strauss-Kahn in a statement.

Over the past decade, Zimbabwe's economy has collapsed with the world's highest inflation rate, chronic shortages of foreign currency and food, skyrocketing unemployment and widespread hunger.

Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe described the deal signed by the three political rivals as "delicate" urging each one to play a part to ensure its success.

"This deal is delicate as a flower and it will take the three principals to nurture it carefully so that it does not break," Masunungure told AFP.

"There is a lot of uncertainty and the success of the agreement depends on the willingness of the three leaders to make it work.

"To make it work the three must explain the deal to their followers right to the grassroots so that they realise and accept that those people whom they regarded as enemies are now partners for the development of the country."

While questions remain over whether the power-sharing deal can work in practice, Mbeki has expressed confidence it will allow Zimbabwe to address its economic meltdown.

According to a copy of the accord made available to journalists after the signing ceremony, both Mugabe and Tsvangirai would co-lead the nation.

The president is to remain in control of the armed forces while Tsvangirai's powers as prime minister would include authority over the police and secret services.

A number of Western nations, including the United States and Britain, have cautiously welcomed the accord while saying they would wait to study its full details.

The political crisis intensified after Mugabe's re-election as president in a widely condemned one-man, second round poll in June.

Tsvangirai boycotted the vote despite finishing ahead of Mugabe in the March first round, citing a campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters that had killed dozens and injured thousands.

Mugabe's party also lost its majority in parliament in the March elections for the first time since independence.