UPDATE 1-Congo president wins approval for state mining company nominees

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DAKAR, June 26 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi won approval on Friday for his nominations to lead state mining company Gecamines, its chairman said, after they were held up by allies of Tshisekedi’s predecessor for over a year.

The approval from the public portfolio ministry could allow Tshisekedi to exert more influence over Gecamines, which controls minority stakes in most of Congo’s largest copper and cobalt projects.

Tshisekedi announced his nominations in June last year. The refusal by successive public portfolio ministers - both allies of his predecessor Joseph Kabila - to sign off on them highlighted Tshisekedi’s struggle to impose his authority since taking over from Kabila.

He re-appointed Albert Yuma, a Kabila ally, as board chairman but named his own loyalists to senior positions. Tshisekedi’s spokesman said last year the nominations were aimed at “stripping Yuma of his exorbitant powers”.

Critics and anti-corruption campaigners have accused Yuma of entering corrupt deals and using Gecamines as a source of political patronage for Kabila’s allies. Yuma has denied those charges.

Tshisekedi, an opponent of Kabila, came to power in January 2019 after being declared the winner of an election that Kabila was ineligible to contest after 18 years in power. Kabila’s allies still hold an overwhelming majority in parliament and control most cabinet ministries.

The presidency has increased pressure on the public portfolio ministry in recent weeks to approve nominations to the boards of Gecamines and other state-owned companies.

The ministry gave approval on Friday, Yuma said in a text message to Reuters. Sama Lukonde Kyenge, a former member of parliament and sports minister, who is an ally of Tshisekedi, will take over as director-general of the company.

Jean Claude Mputu, a spokesperson for anti-corruption group “Congo is not for sale”, criticised Yuma’s re-appointment, saying it “confirms (Tshisekedi’s) reluctance to dig into the past”.

Gecamines produced nearly 500,000 tonnes of copper per year during its 1980s heyday, but has since sold most of its assets. It has joint ventures with foreign partners, including Glencore and China Molybdenum. (Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Bate Felix, Jan Harvey and Barbara Lewis)