WASHINGTON - Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and a one-time opponent of civil-rights legislation, yesterday endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama is vying to be the nation's first black president.

Byrd's support comes almost a week after the Illinois senator's 41-point loss to Hillary Clinton in the longtime lawmaker's home state of West Virginia.

Byrd said he had no intention of getting involved while his state was in the midst of a primary. "But the stakes this November could not be higher," he said in a written statement.

Byrd said that Obama has the qualities to end the Iraq war, which he has strongly opposed.

"I believe that Barack Obama is a shining young statesman who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history," Byrd said.

Byrd has repeatedly apologized for his time in the Ku Klux Klan, which he says he joined as a young man in the 1940s to fight communism. He also opposed integrating the military, and filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Byrd, 90, is the longest-serving senator in history. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line for the presidency after the vice president and House speaker. *