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Congo's top court excludes one ex-PM from presidential race, reinstates another

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KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s top court on Monday excluded one former prime minister from December’s presidential election but ordered another reinstated to the list of candidates to succeed outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

The constitutional court has not yet pronounced, however, on the most highly anticipated case — former vice president and warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba’s challenge to his exclusion from the race last month by the national electoral commission.

The court is due to rule by Tuesday on Bemba’s eligibility. Bemba, whose supporters battled state troops in the streets of the capital Kinshasa after he finished second to Kabila in the 2006 election, was excluded due to a witness tampering conviction at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a judgment broadcast on national television, the constitutional court definitively invalidated the candidacy of Adolphe Muzito on technical grounds related to a dispute with his longtime party. Muzito served as Kabila’s prime minister from 2008-2012.

The court also overruled the electoral commission’s decision last month to bar Samy Badibanga from the race on the grounds that he had previously forfeited his Congolese nationality. Badibanga was briefly prime minister in 2016 and 2017.

A rare public opinion poll by New York University’s Congo Research Group in July found Muzito winning 5 percent of the vote, while Badibanga did not receive enough votes to be included in the results.

Bemba placed third in the poll behind opposition leaders Felix Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi. Tshisekedi’s candidacy was validated last month by the electoral commission but Katumbi was barred from re-entering Congo to register after two years in exile.

The Dec. 23 election is due to usher in Congo’s first democratic transition of power after Kabila agreed last month to respect constitutional term limits and step aside in favour of close loyalist Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary’s candidacy.

That announcement has calmed tensions that exploded into deadly street protests when Kabila refused to step aside at the end of his constitutional mandate in December 2016.

But fears persist of further violence, especially if Bemba is prevented from running. He was unexpectedly able to return to Congo last month after his war crimes convictions for murders and rapes committed by his militia in neighbouring Central African Republic were quashed by the ICC in May.

(Reporting By Benoit Nyemba; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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