KINSHASA - Seven senior political figures were kicked out of Democratic Republic of Congo's ruling coalition on Wednesday for signing a letter urging President Joseph Kabila not to cling to power after his term expires next year, government officials said.
In the letter to Kabila on Monday, the leaders of the G7, a grouping of parties within the coalition, demanded immediate steps to ensure a presidential election scheduled for November 2016 is held on time.
A successful vote would mark the first peaceful transition of power in the mineral-rich central African nation. But Kabila's critics fear he intends to exploit a packed and expensive slate of local, provincial and national polls over the next 14 months to force delays to the presidential vote.
Kabila, who has refused to say he will step down in 2016, is one of several long-serving African leaders approaching the end constitutional term limits. Moves by other leaders to extend their rule have triggered mass protests in Burundi, Burkina Faso and other countries.
"The authors of the memorandum are excluding themselves from the presidential majority," government spokesman Lambert Mende, himself a member of the coalition's leadership, said on state-run television.
He rejected the letter's suggestion that Kabila intended to violate the constitution, saying it had unjustly exposed the president to public vilification.
Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu and the first vice president of the National Assembly, Charles Mwando Nsimba, were among the senior figures who signed the letter.
Kamitatu told Reuters the G7 had walked out of an emergency meeting called on Wednesday in response to the letter when the majority refused to consider the issues they had raised.
Kabila, in power since the assassination of his father President Laurent Kabila in 2001, is required by the constitution to leave office next year.
The G7 warned in its letter that violating the constitution's two-term limit risked destabilizing the vast country where regional wars between 1996 and 2003 killed millions, most from hunger and disease.
The G7 parties control more than 80 of 500 seats in Congo's lower house of parliament and their members occupy 13 of 47 ministerial or vice ministerial posts in Kabila's cabinet. The coalition would still have a majority if they all left.
On Tuesday, unidentified men, armed with batons, attacked an opposition rally that was demanding that Kabila step down in 2016. At least three people were wounded in the attack, including an alleged attacker who appeared to lay lifeless on the ground as a mob took turns beating him with wooden sticks.