Powerful governor of Congo's copper-rich Katanga province resigns

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Moise Katumbi, the powerful governor of Democratic Republic of Congo's copper-rich Katanga province, announced on Tuesday that he had stepped down from his government post and resigned from President Joseph Kabila's ruling party. In a declaration posted on his Twitter account, Katumbi, seen by many as a potential candidate for the presidency, said he had decided to resign over what he said was the national government's attempts defy the constitution and delay elections. "At the moment when we, the Congolese people, are in the final straightaway of the President of the Republic's constitutional mandate, the facts indicate that ... everything is being done to not respect the Constitution," he wrote. Kabila has ruled the vast central African nation for 14 years but is barred from standing again in elections next year. The government's spokesman has said he will respect the constitution but critics say he is using violence and the manipulation of a packed elections calendar to prolong his rule. In his statement, Katumbi said he had also been pushed to his decision by the arrests of pro-democracy activists, increasingly violent police repression, and intimidation. "It is my duty as a politician to call out our leaders over this unacceptable downward spiral," he wrote. Hailing from Katanga, the heart of Kabila's political power base, Katumbi had long been considered among the president's staunchest supporters and a natural successor. However, Katumbi has publicly distanced himself from Kabila over the past year. He is not the first of Kabila's allies to break with the president. Members of seven parties were expelled from the ruling coalition earlier this month for signing a letter demanding that Kabila relinquish power when his term expires, and three government ministers also quit the cabinet.