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President F.W. de Klerk apologized Friday for apartheid, marking the first time a white South African leader has expressed such regret for decades of enforced segregation.

"For too long we clung to a dream of separated nation-states when it was already clear that it could not succeed," de Klerk said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday night in the conservative central town of Winburg. "For that we are sorry."De Klerk, who has been dismantling apartheid since he came to power in 1989, had refused to apologize for the system of legalized segregation that allowed the 5 million whites to dominate 30 million blacks.

In the past, de Klerk said only that apartheid was a well-intended policy that failed. After offering his apology Friday, de Klerk said apartheid was not intentionally evil.

"Yes, we have made mistakes. Yes, we have often sinned and we don't deny this," de Klerk said. "But that we were evil, malignant and mean - to that we say `no.' "

Many blacks, including Anglican Archbishop Des-mond Tutu, have long called on de Klerk to apologize for apartheid and the suffering it caused blacks. They said it was not enough simply to remove racially restrictive laws and call it a political mistake.

De Klerk's apology comes at a time when his reforms are stalled and the leading political parties are exchanging hostile rhetoric on a daily basis.

De Klerk has scrapped all major apartheid laws, but negotiations on establishing a multiracial democracy collapsed in June amid mounting political violence. The African National Congress, the leading black group, recently agreed to return to talks, but other black parties have refused.

De Klerk opens a special session of Parliament on Monday, and his ruling National Party plans to pass legislation allowing blacks to become part of the national government for the first time.