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FILE PHOTO: Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila addresses a news conference at the State House in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament has passed a law expanding financial privileges for former presidents, lawmakers said on Thursday, a move seen as an incentive for President Joseph Kabila to step down following an election in December.

Kabila is barred by constitutional term limits from seeking a third term in the election but has so far refused to publicly rule out a run. Some of his allies have in recent weeks advanced a legal argument they say would justify his candidacy.

If Kabila does step down, it would mark Congo's first democratic transition since independence from Belgium in 1960 after decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups and catastrophic civil wars.

The deadline for candidates to declare they will run is in just under three weeks, and Kabila was due to make a rare public statement to parliament later on Thursday, fuelling speculation that he may settle the question one way or the other.

The law adopted by parliament on Wednesday includes post-presidency perks including a pension, housing, security, health care and a diplomatic passport, national deputies Juvenal Munubo and Jean-Luc Mutokambali told Reuters.

Former presidents already enjoy considerable legal immunity under the constitution, which designates them senators for life.

The version that has been sent to Kabila for his signature also extends those privileges to other government officials, including the heads of the National Assembly and Senate. The Senate's original version would have only applied to ex-presidents.

Kabila was due to leave office after an election in November 2016, but the vote has been repeatedly delayed, sparking a series of violent protests in which security forces have killed dozens of people.

(Reporting By Fiston Mahamba and Aaron Ross; Editing by Tim Cocks and Toby Chopra)

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Reuters