President F.W. de Klerk Thursday lifted the state of emergency in violence-torn Natal Province, meeting a key demand that had slowed peace talks with the African National Congress.

"The state of emergency has now been completely lifted," de Klerk told a news conference. "There is only one route to peace and reconciliation - that is through peaceful negotiation."He said the door to negotiations "is now fully open and I am appealing to all leaders and all South Africans to accept the challenge."

The ANC issued a statement welcoming the move.