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Powerful business lobby replaces ally of ex-Congo president Kabila

KINSHASA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s main private business lobby replaced a close ally of former president Joseph Kabila as its chairman on Wednesday, further weakening Kabila in his power struggle with President Felix Tshisekedi.

The board of the influential Congolese Business Federation (FEC) voted to elect Dieudonne Kasembo, a logistics company executive, over Albert Yuma, who had served as chairman for the past 15 years.

Yuma’s loss marks a fresh blow for Kabila, whose chosen successor lost the 2018 presidential election to Tshisekedi but had tried to maintain his influence through his political alliance’s control of majorities in parliament.

That forced Tshisekedi into a governing coalition in which Kabila’s allies controlled most ministries. But Tshisekedi moved decisively against Kabila this month by announcing the end of the coalition and engineering the removal of a Kabila ally as parliament speaker.

Yuma had been re-elected as FEC chairman on Nov. 26, but a federal court invalidated the election on procedural grounds. Yuma’s allies boycotted Wednesday’s re-vote, accusing Tshisekedi’s administration of dictating the court’s ruling.

The presidency denies it was involved.

Yuma is also the chairman of the state copper and cobalt mining company Gecamines. Under his leadership, Gecamines faced repeated allegations by local and international watchdogs that its money was used to fund Kabila’s political interests.

Yuma and Kabila have always denied that.

As FEC chairman, Yuma oversaw the Chamber of Mines, where his support for a new mining code in 2018 that raised taxes on producers put him in conflict with foreign investors the chamber was supposed to represent, including Glencore and Barrick Gold Corp..

Congo is Africa’s top producer of copper and the world’s leading miner of cobalt, an ingredient in electric car batteries. (Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Aaron Ross; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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