May 28, 2010 / 5:01 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 1-Togo opposition leader joins gov't, angers supporters

* Veteran opposition leader joins government for first time

* Move divides opposition despite naming of ministers

(Recasts with announcement of new government)

By John Zodzi

LOME, May 28 (Reuters) - The head of Togo’s main opposition party has agreed to enter into a coalition with the ruling RPT in a deal that gives it seven ministries, including foreign affairs, but also deepens divisions within party ranks.

The deal brokered by veteran UFC party leader Gilchrist Olympio was rejected by another prominent UFC member, raising the likelihood it will fragment the country’s opposition, which had been contesting incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe’s election win in March.

“This long battle for democracy, the rule of law ... and economic and social development for the Togolese people has sadly not achieved the results we had hoped for,” Olympio, leader of the UFC for two decades, told a news conference.

“That is why, after laborious discussions with the RPT, and having secured the whole-hearted support of our (party’s) federations, I have taken the decision to propose for the first time a new way out of the crisis through sharing power.”

According to the deal between Olympio, son of Togo’s first president, and Gnassingbe’s RPT, the UFC will help oversee state-run businesses, local government and the diplomatic corps, and gain cabinet positions.

Four new posts have been created and aside from foreign affairs, UFC officials will hold relatively minor portfolios.

Olympio will himself head a committee charged with pushing through constitutional reforms that were agreed in the aftermath of post-election violence in 2005, when hundreds of people were killed challenging Gnassingbe’s first poll win, but never implemented.

Gnassingbe’s presidency follows 38 years of dictatorial rule by his father Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Jean-Pierre Fabre, who represented the UFC and won just under 34 percent of the vote in this year’s polls, rejected Olympio’s move, telling French broadcaster RFI that he had not consulted other party leaders.

Fabre said the UFC had previously ruled out sharing power with the RPT and that the party would meet soon to end the “disorder”.

Rolake Akinola, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said the move was significant in that it was likely to end Olympio’s involvement in opposition, weakening it and solidifying Gnassingbe’s control of the phosphate-producing West African nation.

“This move essentially further weakens the opposition going forward over the next three or four years,” she said.

“We should see it as co-option, rather than coalition. The jobs are likely to be largely symbolic. We might just see the party split,” she added.

The UFC mounted a failed legal challenge to the March election result and there have been some street protests, but the demonstrations have not turned as violent as in 2005.

Fabre won the UFC’s ticket for the elections this year on a technicality as Olympio was out of the country but analysts say divisions have been brewing within the party for some time. (Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Noah Barkin)

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